In response to the July 5th beating death by Fullerton Police of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia, ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Hector Villagra released the following statement:
“While much of what led to Kelly Thomas’ death is still hazy, several things are already crystal clear now.
We are pleased that the FBI will investigate Thomas’ death. Although Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas reportedly has some two dozen investigators working on the case, interviewing up to 100 witnesses, the district attorney has an abysmal track record when it comes to investigating and prosecuting officer-involved deaths.
In 2004, an investigation by the O.C. Weekly found that of 50 officer-involved shootings in the previous five years, not a single one was pursued for prosecution by the D.A.’s office. In 2007, the D.A. cleared two Huntington Beach officers in the shooting death of Ashley McDonald, who was shot 15 times after brandishing a knife.
The bottom line is that the district attorney’s office is simply not the body to conduct an independent investigation. These are prosecutors accustomed to working with police officers and building their cases with the assistance of police officers. A thorough, impartial inquiry requires investigators who are not in daily contact with police; indeed, whose daily work doesn’t require police cooperation.
We call on Fullerton Police and the district attorney’s office to release a full accounting of what took place, including the release of additional videos from the bus depot showing the beating. The district attorney’s office has said those videos may present a different picture of the incident; we won’t know until they’re shared with the public.
The incident also spotlights the complete lack in Orange County of government services for the mentally ill and chronically homeless populations. Without such services, tragic incidents like this will continue to occur, as police officers, improperly trained in identifying people with mental illness or de-escalating encounters with them, are called upon to respond to homeless individuals with untreated illnesses."
A previous version of this page mistakenly referred to an investigation conducted by the LA Weekly. The investigation was in fact conducted by the O.C. Weekly. We regret the error.