Fullerton releases 2,400 pages of reports in the police beating death of Kelly Thomas

When Kelly Thomas died nearly nine years ago, the initial police reports portrayed him as a criminal suspect, a homeless schizophrenic who “assaulted” six Fullerton patrol officers. He now is remembered as the victim in one of the worst police beatings in national history, triggering major reforms in how officers deal with the homeless. That change in attitude is evident in the documents released Tuesday by the city of Fullerton in compliance with new state police transparency laws.

This May, 19, 2002 family photo released by the Thomas family on Wednesday, Aug.

3, 2011 shows Kelly Thomas. Thomas, 37, died July 10, five days after officers investigating car burglary reports tried to search his backpack. Surveillance video released earlier this week shows witnesses telling a bus driver that officers beat him and repeatedly used a stun gun as he cried out for his father, sparking outrage in this quiet college town and causing a city councilwoman to call for the police chief. (AP Photo/Thomas Family)

The initial reports in the Thomas case said patrol officers where injured on July 5, 2011, while trying to arrest him.

Those injuries turned out to be a scratch on the arm of one officer. Thomas did not survive the encounter, dying of his injuries five days later in a hospital. The records offer a detailed view into what happened the night that Fullerton officers, no longer with the department, hit Thomas, 37, with their fists, wooden batons and the back end of a Taser gun — smacking him so hard that he called out for his “daddy.” The officers called themselves victims.

Some later would be called defendants, after prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to convict former officers Manual Ramos, Jay Cincinelli and Joseph Wolfe on criminal charges. Documents released Tuesday show that at the time of the beating, Ramos already was on a performance improvement plan for a January 2010 incident in which he made irrelevant comments demonstrating a lack of compassion not up to the standards of a Fullerton police officer. In a termination notice from then-Police Chief Dan Hughes, Ramos was criticized later for using excessive force and escalating the Thomas incident by telling him he was preparing to “mess” him up.

“A reasonable officer would not have applied the force that you did,” Hughes wrote. “From your provocation of Mr. Thomas early in the encounter, until the incident was concluded, you engaged in multiple instances of excessive force, from striking Mr. Thomas with your baton to punching him in the ribs, to applying your body weight such that you literally crushed him.”

The newly released documents include interviews between city consultants and police supervisors who “edited” the reports turned in by the officers involved. Department supervisors were criticized at the time for allowing the officers to watch the video of the beating before writing their reports, assuring they would conform. The name Kelly Thomas has become synonymous with police brutality and a rallying cry for reforms in how law enforcement treats the homeless.

The 2,400 pages of documents released by the city on Tuesday close a chapter in a pivotal moment in Orange County history.

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