Homeless California man beaten by police cleared posthumously

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 5:05 PM
Homeless California man beaten by police cleared posthumously

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A mentally ill transient who died last year after being beaten and shocked with a stun gun by police in the Southern California town of Fullerton has been posthumously exonerated of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation.

Fullerton's acting chief of police, Dan Hughes, read a statement at a City Council meeting late on Tuesday clearing Kelly Thomas of suspicion that he did anything to provoke the violent struggle that led to his death.

The beating, captured on video, touched off a series of protests in the city, prompted the criminal prosecution of two officers and led to the ouster of three city councilmen in a recall election in June. The city's police chief also resigned.

One clip of the beating, aired repeatedly on cable television, showed Thomas lying on the ground screaming, "They're killing me," as several officers swarmed over him, delivering multiple blows and Taser shocks.

Police previously had said the officers' ill-fated encounter with Thomas, 37, on the night of July 5, 2011, began with them questioning him about his tampering with car doors at a bus depot -- an account at odds with Hughes' assertion on Tuesday.

"There is no evidence of which the Fullerton Police Department is now aware that Kelly Thomas actually tried to steal anything from any of the vehicles in the lot," Hughes said in the statement, read at the direction of the council.

It was officers' questioning of Thomas, a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia, that escalated into the beating. He died five days later.

In May, the city agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas' mother, in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son's death. A separate lawsuit was brought on the one-year anniversary of the beating by Thomas' father.

Two Fullerton policemen were ordered in May to stand trial on homicide charges stemming from the incident. They have pleaded not guilty.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said last fall he would not file charges against four other police officers involved in the incident due to a lack of evidence.

But an attorney for one of the four officers told the Orange County Register newspaper that prosecutors planned to seek an indictment of her client this week. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Christopher Wilson)