The city of Fullerton said on Monday that it reached a settlement in the death of a mentally ill homeless man who died after a violent arrest that brought national scrutiny to the suburban university town.
The city agreed to pay $4.9 million on the morning that opening statements were to begin in the wrongful death lawsuit, said Ron Thomas, the father of the late Kelly Thomas.
Ron Thomas said at a news conference that while the city acknowledged no wrongdoing in the settlement, it was a clear indication to him of its liability and guilt in the death of his 37-year-old son Kelly Thomas. Thomas said he feels vindicated by the settlement.
Since the 2011 death of his son, who was homeless and had schizophrenia that had led to previous interactions with police, Ron Thomas has crusaded to bring attention to the death, to see the officers who arrested him prosecuted and to improve police interactions with the mentally ill.
Two Fullerton officers were cleared during a criminal trial last year. Former Officer Manuel Ramos was acquitted of second-degree murder, and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Both were also found not guilty of excessive use of force. Prosecutors dropped charges against a third officer after the verdicts.
A 33-minute surveillance video recorded the confrontation as it unfolded. The video, matched up with audio from Ramos’ body recorder, was a central piece of evidence in the criminal trial.
The video began with Ramos stopping Thomas after the officer answered a call about a disheveled man jiggling the handles of car doors in a busy transit center parking lot.
Ramos grew frustrated with Thomas, who wasn’t following orders to sit on a curb with his hands on his knees.
Just before the altercation began, Ramos snapped on plastic gloves, made two fists and then held them in front of Thomas’ face as he said, “Now see these fists? They’re going to (expletive) you up.”
Cicinelli, who arrived a few moments later, jolted Thomas several times with an electric stun gun and used the butt end to hit Thomas in the head and face, breaking bones.
Cicinelli told investigators that he hit Thomas in the face because he feared he was grabbing at his stun gun.
An independent auditor found that the officers had violated the city’s use-of-force policies.
The report noted that Cicinelli was recorded immediately after the incident saying that he had “smashed his face to hell” and “(expletive) beat him probably 20 times in the face with this Taser.”
Thomas was taken off life support five days after the July 5, 2011, encounter.
A county pathologist ruled Thomas died, in part, from asphyxiation caused by injuries he received during the confrontation.
Attorneys for Cicinelli and Ramos did not return emails seeking comment.
November 23, 2015, KQED.org, November 23, 2015“Fullerton to Pay $4.9M Over Death of Mentally Ill Homeless Man”,