Orange County News

Kelly Thomas case: Fullerton bar bouncer speaks out about lawsuit

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fullerton bar-nightclub owner is being sued by a former bouncer, who says he was fired for opposing a 911 call made about Kelly Thomas the night of his beating.

Michael Reeves attempted to set the record straight by speaking out at a news conference Wednesday. Flanked by his attorneys, Reeves claimed he was demoted soon after he spoke out about the Thomas case and eventually fired. He is seeking $4 million in damages in his wrongful termination suit.

Reeves said a manager at the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen always told workers to do whatever it takes to keep the homeless away from the establishment. On the night of July 5, Reeves said the manager called 911, telling police that Thomas was breaking into cars. However, Reeves says Thomas was only picking up cigarette butts near the restaurant.

"The Slidebar manager called the Fullerton police, and I heard her report that Kelly Thomas was in the parking lot breaking into cars. I knew her report to be false," said Reeves.

Responding officers confronted Thomas, and an altercation took place. He was severely beaten and eventually died.

Reeves said he was fired after he voiced his opposition to that 911 call. According to Reeves, he cooperated with the district attorney's office during the subsequent investigation and was outspoken about that 911 call. He said he was told by his employer to keep quiet about what he knew and that the Slidebar was not involved in what happened to Thomas.

Slidebar owner Jeremy Popoff denies Reeves' accusations, saying he's done a lot to support the homeless community in Fullerton. Still, Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, is now urging people to not patronize that business. On Tuesday, Ron Thomas and several others held a protest outside the bar.

"If Slidebar is part of it, I'm going to change that too, and I won't stop until it is changed. If Slidebar really had nothing to do with this and made a legitimate call, I'll be the first one to apologize to them, believe me," said Ron Thomas. "But right now, it doesn't seem that way at all. So, to the community, I say I'm just following up on this. It's another lead for justice for Kelly, and if these are bad guys, then they need to go away too."

Popoff says he's been consistently transparent with police and Ron Thomas.

"I've made myself available to Mr. Thomas. I've reached out to him early on. He has my cellphone number. A lot of the local bloggers and people have my cellphone number, and I've cooperated in every way that I could."

Popoff added that he was embarrassed of the media attention brought on by the lawsuit, saying "Somehow, I'm getting on TV because of something horrible that happened, and I would never, ever want that. But I also have to stand up for myself and my reputation and for my business and my 50 employees that work here. They don't deserve this."

He said the only reason Reeves was fired was because he was mouthing off to a manager - not because of anything concerning the 911 call. He said Reeves wasn't even within earshot when that manager called police that night.

Popoff, who is a lead singer and guitarist for the alternative rock band, Lit, says the lawsuit is merely an attempt to capitalize on the band's comeback album, which is being released this month.

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