Orange County News

Fullerton cops in Thomas case reviewed surveillance video before writing reports

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fullerton police officers accused in the brutal beating of Kelly Thomas were allowed to view footage of the incident before writing their police reports.

Fullerton Interim Police Chief Kevin Hamilton says police officers frequently review video and audio tapes to ensure the accuracy of what happened in their reports.

"The inference seems to be that there was something sinister in that we were trying to help the officers falsify their reports in some way, or make the reports inaccurate, and I'm here to tell you that is absolutely not true," said Hamilton.

The Fullerton City Council held a special meeting Friday, followed by a closed session to discuss hiring an independent consultant to review the controversial arrest and death of Thomas. The council will vote on that officially next Tuesday.

During the public meeting, one resident brought up the acknowledgment by Hamilton that the officers involved in last month's altercation were allowed to view surveillance video of the incident before writing their reports.

LAPD's former inspector general, Jeffrey Eglash, told the Los Angeles Times that allowing police to look at video before giving evidence is a "bad practice."

After bringing the issue up to city council, that resident, Chris Thompson, called for three city council members to resign: Fullerton Mayor Richard Jones and councilmembers James "Don" Bankhead, the city's mayor pro-tem, and Pat McKinley, a former chief of the Fullerton Police Dept.

On July 5, six Fullerton officers responded to a report of a man breaking into cars at the Fullerton Bus Depot. They struggled with Kelly Thomas after trying to search his backpack. Thomas was homeless and schizophrenic. The 37-year-old was hospitalized with severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life support days later and died.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office is investigating to decide if the six officers, who are now on leave, used excessive force when they tried to arrest Thomas on suspicion of auto burglary. The FBI is also investigating the case.

Following much protest and outcry from the community, Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers took indefinite medical leave, saying he was under doctor's orders. Hamilton, who has been with the department since 1979, was appointed as police chief in Seller's absence.

Also on the agenda for Friday's city council meeting was the implementation of an outside review in the Thomas case.

Hamilton supports hiring consultant Michael Gennaco, who is also the chief attorney for the L.A. County Office of Independent Review. The OIR was created to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

If hired, Gennaco would review policies and procedures of the Fullerton Police Department and oversee the internal affairs investigation of Thomas's death.

There has been immense pressure on the police department as well as city council members, including pressure to release city-run surveillance video of the incident to the public.

Thomas's father, Ron Thomas, is a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy. Ron Thomas spoke with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas about the surveillance video during a meeting Friday. Ron Thomas has not seen the surveillance video, but he feels that the footage may not show police misconduct and he may not be happy with the outcome of the DA's investigation.

"My feeling is he's relying way too much on the video alone and not the witness statements and not the cellphone videos that are out there," said Ron Thomas. "I think too much attention is placed just on it."

Footage from a bystander's cellphone camera shows some of the bloody encounter. In the video, which was posted on YouTube, Thomas can be heard screaming for his father as he was being Tasered.

The officers involved in the incident have not faced any charges.

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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