California city to pay $4.9 million over fatal beating of homeless man

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 23, 2015 4:25 PM

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The city of Fullerton, California agreed on Monday to pay $4.9 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the father of a homeless man beaten to death by two then-policemen, an incident that sparked protests in the Los Angeles suburb, the plaintiff's attorney said.

The settlement was reached on the same day that trial was scheduled to begin in the wrongful death action filed by Ron Thomas against the city, police department and two ex-officers over the beating of his 37-year-old son, Kelly Thomas, in July 2011.

Fullerton City Attorney Richard Jones said in a written statement that the final settlement amount was still pending final approval by insurers and that no taxpayer funds were involved in the agreement.

In January of last year, an Orange County jury acquitted the two former officers, Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos, of all criminal charges in the high profile case. The FBI said following that verdict that it was re-examining the case.

During the criminal trial, prosecutors accused Cicinelli and Ramos, who had approached Thomas near a bus depot to question him about reports of vandalized cars, of turning a routine law enforcement encounter into an unnecessary and savage beating that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.

The incident was caught on a surveillance camera at the bus station and led to angry street demonstrations in Fullerton, 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Los Angeles, as well as the ouster of three city council members in a recall election.

On the videotape, before the confrontation turns violent Ramos is seen strapping latex gloves on his hands, balling them into fists in Thomas's face and telling the drifter, whom he knew from previous encounters: "You see these fists? They are getting ready to f--- you up."

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By the end of the tape, Thomas can be heard screaming for help as officers swarm over him, delivering multiple blows and shocks with a stun gun. He is heard calling dozens of times for his father to help him, yelling: "Daddy, they're killing me."

The city of Fullerton previously already agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas's mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son's death. The victim's parents are divorced and litigating separately.

In 2012, Fullerton's acting chief of police posthumously exonerated Thomas of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Marguerita Choy)