How the Kelly Thomas Killing Sparked a Citizen Revolt

The bipartisan movement to reform a broken California city

Given the nation’s deep fiscal problems, many Americans of the right and left are so frustrated about the political process that they are jumping on Tea Party buses and occupying city parks. But efforts to reform Washington, D.C., or Sacramento are hopeless, despite those “change” slogans advanced by a president committed mainly to the status quo. If you want to change the world, you need to start in your city.

A great example of what agitated citizens can accomplish is taking place in the Southern California city of Fullerton. Three council members are the targets of a recall election on June 5. The effort has gained steam after the Orange County district attorney recently released a horrific 33-minute video of the city’s police officers beating a frail homeless man named Kelly Thomas last July. Thomas later died in a hospital.

Fullerton is a long-time Republican bastion. It’s hardly lefty Oakland, where protests against police brutality are expected. But the Thomas beating death and the craven response from police and the council majority were so disturbing that it sparked a city-wide revolt led by a local businessman named Tony Bushala whose blog was a lightning rod for debate. He is leading the recall election.

The brouhaha is remarkably nonpartisan. The three targeted council members—Dick Jones, Don Bankhead and Pat McKinley—are establishment Republicans. The two council members who escaped its wrath come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, conservative Republican Bruce Whitaker and liberal Democrat Sharon Quirk. Those two called for openness and accountability, but were overruled by the majority, which chose to run and hide instead. But it's hard to hide from the incident now that the video has gone viral.

The surveillance tape caught the horrifying confrontation in vivid detail. We see a large officer named Manuel Ramos approach the scraggly Thomas, who is suspected of breaking into some cars. Thomas gives him some lip, but doesn’t act in a threatening way. Ramos then puts on what the district attorney calls a “show” as he slowly slips on latex gloves, twirls his baton and then says, “[S]ee my fists ... these fists are going to f... you up.”

(Article continues below video.)

Another officer comes in and starts swinging a baton at Thomas, who cries out in pain. Yet another officer, Jay Cicinelli, used a Taser on Thomas and, as the DA explained, hammered Thomas in the face with the blunt end of it. Thomas called out for his Dad as the officers worked him over. Ramos is being charged with second-degree murder and Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter. Ramos, the DA added, “turned a routine encounter into a brutal beating death.”

After the beating, and Fullerton residents were consumed by anger and demanded answers, their leaders failed them. The now-departed police chief took vacation and then went on disability leave. That left the council to take charge. But the council majority dissembled.

It was bad enough that the Fullerton Police Department released false information (i.e., claiming that officers suffered broken bones after a supposedly brutal fight with Thomas), but here’s what Mayor Jones said, which is as insensitive as it is idiotic: “I’ve seen far worse injuries that are survivable. I don’t know why he died.” Thomas was fine, then he was beaten into a pulp—something now undeniable, thanks to the video—and these city “leaders” couldn’t figure out what killed him.

Furthermore, the three council members opposed the release of the video to the public. They backed the department. McKinley, a former police chief who hired the officers involved in the beating, wanted to keep the officers on the street. These three didn’t seriously question the police department, which allowed the officers to watch the video and get their stories straight before giving their testimony to investigators. Jones referred to the peaceful citizens of his city who were protesting the Thomas death as the equivalent of a “lynch mob.”

“The community was crying out in anger,” said Bushala. “They wanted leadership. Not only did Mayor Jones and Councilmen Bankhead and McKinley fail to lead, but they joined with those who downplayed this horror. They tried to cover it up and circle the wagons. Their actions were cowardly.”

Fullerton’s police department has been plagued by scandals, including officers accused of theft, illegal drug use, and even having sex in a squad car. Apparently, Fullerton residents had enough of this and the Thomas death was the spark for a mini-revolt. Residents protested and—this is key—kept up the pressure on City Hall even as the investigation dragged on. Another key was having a local businessman willing to pay for the recall election, which has kept the fires of anger and real change alive in the ensuing months.

Recall advocates have focused on other legitimate issues also, ones that are broad enough to hold onto that non-partisan coalition. For instance, Jones, Bankhead, and McKinley have been advocates for eminent-domain-abusing, tax-squandering redevelopment projects throughout the city’s downtown. They have failed to rein in pension costs. McKinley is himself a pension-abuse poster child, a double-dipper who receives $215,000 a year. All three defended a water tax that has been ruled illegal, with McKinley complaining about “knee jerk” efforts to return the money to the public. Furthermore, the replacement candidates come from across the political spectrum, thus keeping this from becoming a Republican v. Democrat grudge match.

A news story reported that “legal experts caution that the footage doesn't tell the entire story.” But anyone who has watched the videotape and looked at the response from those three city leaders has seen enough. We’ll see what happens in June, but the Fullerton reaction shows that Americans can accomplish far more than they think if they think locally and act locally.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  • ||

    This story gives me a teeny tiny bit of hope for the country. On the other hand, it's sad that it takes something so egregious for people to finally wake up to reality.

  • wareagle||

    that's the power of video. Seeing the lone picture of Thomas is disturbing, to be sure, but seeing the entirety of the incident takes you a new level. It makes Rodney King look a frat hazing.

  • sloopyinca||

    That's why they wanted to cover it up.

    And if the video from the bus had not been released, there would have been no outcry, and they probably would have been able to have deleted the new and more damning video before anybody even knew it existed. After all, what's the image of one crazy schizophrenic when compared to the unimpeachable word of half a dozen policemen?

    And I want to say that Kelly Thomas' family have handled themselves with the utmost of class through this ordeal. From threats and intimidation from the FPD and their friends to a constant barrage of (inaccurate) negativity directed at Kelly's character in the immediate aftermath of his murder, they have been pillars of strength and integrity. God bless them all.

  • Lord Humungus||

    +million for well-written and thoughtful content.

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    Word. And may Science bless them as well.

  • scareduck||

    What really got to me was the camera phone video released prior to this was very distant, and it was nigh well impossible to tell what was happening. This is unimpeachable. The pathetic attempts to spackle over this by the police department, the city council, and the defense attorneys are all undone by that evidence, which makes crystal clear that these guys wanted to beat him to a pulp, and did.

  • Father Jack||

    Feck these murderous swine. Let this be a warning to jackbooted pigs everywhere...your time is coming, and the citizenry is hungry for bacon. Drink! Arse! Girls!

  • sarcasmic||

    I wonder how people will react when the officers are acquitted.

  • fish||

    Murderously?

  • R C Dean||

    Don't get your hopes up.

  • Loki||

    If they are acquitted, hopefully the officers will be found dead under mysterious circumstances within a week. If not, hopefully they'll be found in their prison cells one morning looking like the "after" pics of Kelly Thomas.

    I'd be fine with either outcome. Sadly, neither scenario is likely to actually happen.

  • sloopyinca||

    No way are they getting acquitted. I was in LA most of the week, and it's been all over the radio there. Their entire defense in the preliminary hearing has been to pin the death on the paramedics. That shit ain't flying now and it won't fly at trial. And another thing: there's nowhere they can move this trial to that will have more sympathy for the cops than for Kelly Thomas and his family. We will not see a repeat of the Rodney King fiasco.

    And I would like to see the other officers involved in the murder and/or coverup charged with some civil rights violations and get sent to federal pen for a while. I can only hope they are joined by Ramos and Cicinelli after they serve their sentences in state prison.

  • sarcasmic||

    You have more confidence than I.

  • Loki||

    I think they probably will be found guilty. I doubt there are enough pig fluffers to get them off scott free. Unfortunately though, they'll probably get to serve their time in some minimum security resort prison in a special wing reserved for former cops. No way will they end up in maximum security general population. So no hope of them ending up looking Thomas did after they were done with him, and no hope of any kind of street justice being done either.

  • scareduck||

    Also forgotten in this: Kelly Thomas' father is a retired sheriff's deputy. That is a lot of weight in a court of law.

  • John C. Randolph||

    I hope the paramedics sue them for slander, too.

    -jcr

  • XM||

    You lower yourself as a human being when you wish for vigilante justice.

    Wasn't the LA riots newsworthy about a week ago?

  • Father Jack||

    When the feckin' establishment prevents true justice, what's left? Drink! Arse! Girls!

  • ||

    These three council members opposed the release of the video to the public.

    Time to get sent packing, assholes.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    This is precisely the type of local protests the Libertarian Party could and should be leading in order to gain traction in local communities.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Oh, no. That can't be distracted by this kind of penny-ante controversy. After all, there are minimum wage laws to be repealed! And everybody knows minumum wage is why black unemployment is so high!

    Priorities, folks.

  • deified||

    + a billion for directly stating some very practical advice.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Jones obviously fails to appreciate the difference between an angry mod carrying protest signs and an angry mod carrying torches and pitchforks. With a little luck and an honest recall election, maybe he can avoid having to learn the difference firsthand.

  • l0b0t||

    Should have know Dick Jones was involved. "I work for Dick Jones. DICK JONES! He runs OCP; OCP runs the cops!"

  • ||

    Dead or alive, they're recalling all three.

  • l0b0t||

    Brilliant sir.

  • ||

    The now-departed police chief took vacation and then went on disability leave.

    Of course he did. I wonder if there's any way to get an obstruction of justice charge to stick on this asshole.

  • sloopyinca||

    He's got immunity. Not only that, but IIRC, he has recently retired due to his disability, which is nothing other than stress caused by the Thomas incident's aftermath.

    So, his defense against obstruction will be the stress-related disability...which was caused by his cover up and subsequent public outrage. It's a vicious circle that the taxpayers are on the hook for to the tune of about $175,000/year.

  • jacob the barbarian||

    Upping his stress levels could lead to the public saving some money.

  • sloopyinca||

    It needs to be upped for just a few minutes. Like perhaps by Kelly Thomas' father handing him a revolver with one bullet in it and saying "I'm going to leave you alone for 15 minutes. That revolver has one bullet in it. Do whatever you think is honorable."

    As a matter of fact, that's what should be done for the four officers that inexplicably escaped charges.

  • Loki||

    I'm thinking some variation on The Count of Monte Carlo's revenge against Villefort.

    Put them in s car headed for prison (general population, of course) with a gun on the seat. After they put it to their temple and pull the trigger, only to find that it's empty, you then tell them "you didn't think I'd make it that easy did you?" just before the car pulls away.

  • Loki||

    *Monte Cristo

    Just noticed that. oops.

  • Broseph of Invention||

    I thought you were trying to be clever with "Monte Carlo", since it's a type of car.

  • jacob the barbarian||

    @ Loki, Your Engineer is showing

  • Sam Grove||

    Looking for honor in the wrong place.

  • Rich||

    A news story reported that "legal experts caution that the footage doesn't tell the entire story."

    Now, *that* is excellent journalism.

  • ||

    "Legal experts" = the prosecutor

  • jacob the barbarian||

    Watched the video of this shit last night.

    http://www.pixiq.com/article/s.....th-caution

    There are other cops who should be charged in the killing. Then there are the higher ups who tried to cover it up. The bastards offered Thomas' father $900K to go away. It is too soon to put the pitch forks and torches down.

    The police chief should be hounded to his grave.

  • daveInAustin||

    @jacob Don't be so generous. They offered $900K of o.p.m. for him to go away.

  • jacob the barbarian||

    good point

  • sloopyinca||

    This was a golden opportunity to expose the power and corruption of the police union. In fact, it could still be pointed out that the two cops that were charged have still not been terminated, but are on administrative leave. It could also be an opportunity to rein in unaccountable police forces across the country, but that has not happened. It could have been an opportunity to create real citizen advisory boards/oversight of police departments, but I have not seen any traction in that area.

    IOW, the PD's across America will wait this one out and watch the public move on to the next outrage with nary a thing done to eliminate the double-standard, lack of accountability and special treatment and unwarranted deference the police receive every day in America. It will take the death of a Senator's or Governor's child at the hands of renegade cops for this to garner the attention it really needs in America. Then, and only then, will we begin to watch the watchmen and hold them accountable in the eyes of the law for their persistent and blatant abuse of American citizens, residents and visitors.

  • ||

    "legal experts caution that the footage doesn't tell the entire story"

    Nothing tells the "entire story", certainly not the cops who are on the footage.

  • Paul.||

    Shyeah. The cops moving their lips certainly didn't tell the entire story, but a video taken from 75 feet away told a little more of it, and then a video taken 10 feet away told a shitload more of it. Something tells me that the more actual visual evidence we get, the worse the cops' story gets.

  • Paul.||

    One problem with trying to change the behavior of police departments is our mainstream media, which still editorially chooses stories which are polarized along race lines.

    What has happened over the decades with police is, instead of targeting brown people for harassment or brutality, police departments are now mostly color blind, and will subject anyone to harassment or brutality.

    The only place I'm hearing about this Kelly Thomas story is in Reason. I've heard not a peep on NPR, and if it did get any play, it was one of those stories-in-passing.

    However the newsmedia has been blasting the Trevon Martin case continuously for weeks.

    If the MSM would start treating this problem as a police problem instead of a race problem, I think we'd get some traction on reforms.

  • daveInAustin||

    It did get at least a peep on npr. Almost 4 minutes.

  • Paul.||

    Thanks for the the link.

    I'm an avid NPR listener and haven't heard anything on Kelly Thomas, but have heard daily reports on Trevon Martin, plus entire shows dedicated to it.

    I just did a quick search and most of the stories start around May 8 and surround the charging of the police officers. I find another story discussing "cops and the mentally ill" which frankly, rubs me the wrong way.

    Typical NPR-- don't see this as a brutality problem, see it more of a lack of institutional training when dealing with a special population:

    Two police officers faces charges in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless, schizophrenic man, was beaten to death in California in 2011. Writer Carmelo Valone had a violent encounter with Boston police in 1995. He argues that police need new tactics for confronting the mentally ill.

    Would that tactic be... not killing them when they're lying on the ground?

    Now I'm just fucking annoyed.

  • Tonio||

    Plus, NPR played the audio from the tapes and warned that it was disturbing.

  • Tonio||

    But if the po-po perceives that a media outlet are "out to get them" then that media outlet will lose access and their competitors will get all the crime beat scoops.

  • Loki||

    If the MSM would start treating this problem as a police problem instead of a race problem, I think we'd get some traction on reforms.

    This, unfortunately. I'm somewhat torn. On one hand if Kelly Thomas had been black, the MSM wouldn't have ignored it as much as they have, but they would have spun the story to make it all about RACISM OMG!!!!1!!!!!!11! instead of the real issue. Asshole cops who think they can literally get their jollies off beating a skinny homeless schizo to death and get away with it.

  • sarcasmic||

    Not only do they get away with it, but they charge the victim with a crime.

  • Tonio||

    Well, the previous scandals (presumably) didn't cost the taxpayers as much as the Thomas debacle will cost, nor make the citizens question their own safety at the hands of those who claim to "protect and serve" them.

    I'm hoping that this is the leading edge of a political great awakening where citizens will demand accountability, transparency and adherence to the rule of law from their governments. Hoping...but not expecting.

  • Tonio||

    OT, my original edit of the comment was flagged as containing a word longer than fifty characters. I pasted this from Notepad so there were no special characters.

    I originally included a quote from the article within italics tags; deleted this and it posted. Does tagged text count as a single word?

  • sarcasmic||

    directional quotes

  • Tonio||

    I don't think so. I typed the quote marks in Notepad, which doesn't substitute "smart" (66 99) quote characters when you press the quote character key.

    The text I quoted from Greenhut's article was enclosed in html eye-tags.

  • Mo' $parky||

    I pasted this from Notepad so there were no special characters

    Notepad doesn't always do what you think it does.

  • fried wylie||

    which reminds me, I need to try pushing some copypasta through Notepad++, see if it works.

  • fried wylie||

    video of the city’s police officers

  • fried wylie||

    wtff?! copy from article above, paste into NP++, copy and paste into the comment box, apostraphe was still tilted....BUT IT SUBMITTED WITHOUT A PROBLEM!

  • Paul.||

    Fred, you're talking to yourself. There's a group of Fullerton cops with batons looking your way.

  • fried wylie||

    video of the city’s police officers

  • fried wylie||

    ok, apparently, the tilted apostrophe is no longer "longer than 50 chars"....

  • fried wylie||

    lemme try it with the text inside a tag...

    video of the city’s police officers

  • fried wylie||

    still works.

    so, apparently, the squirrels decided to fix the problem right before I decided to try NP++.

    Fuck You, Squirrels.

  • Tonio||

    True dat, Sparky.

  • ||

    You'd need about two generations of malign neglect for that to happen.

  • cryptarchy||

    http://www.outpost-of-freedom.com/jimbellap.htm

    I wonder how long it will take till people start targeting police officers

  • Paul.||

    A long time. It's been demonstrated the cops are held to a lower standard than the rest of the population.

  • Harvard||

    Maybe. Maybe not. If the DEA kicks in our door where do you go for recompense? If the local brownshirt does it you can take your time kneecapping the fuck. Not hard to find out who he is, where he lives, where his wife shops for his beer, etc. Use patience, scout well, the .223 or 25-06 shoots unbelievably flat and hyper accurate out a looooong way.
    Make a career out of it and go right up the ladder of rank.

  • sloopyinca||

    I'm glad this is a Friday story. That way, dunphy will have the entire weekend to come on here and call us all "bigorati" for demanding the police be held to the same standard as the rest of us, because in his eyes, they already are...and are often held to a higher standard, witnessed by the one story he keeps going back to where a cop may have gotten a few more years for ignoring multiple court orders and throwing his ex-girlfriend out a second story window in an attempt to kill her.*

    *IIRC, dunphy kept referring to this as a "first-time domestic assault" until I did the research and found out he tried to kill the woman, who is not permanently disabled from the attack. Oh, and to add insult to his injury, he had been claiming the cop got sentenced 5x what a normal person would, even though the sentence was just a bit outside the high range of what the cop's defense attorney expected to get.

  • sarcasmic||

    If these cops were being treated like anyone else they would have been overcharged like Zimmerman. Murder one for everyone involved.
    They also would have been charged with filing false reports and obstruction of justice at the very least.

    This trial is just a show. The worst they'll get is some probation. They won't spend a day in jail. And when it's all over they'll be back on the job, cheerfully caving in peoples' faces, in another department. Though they might look around for cameras in the future.

  • wareagle||

    bigorati. I am so going to have to steal that. Er, borrow that. With full citation as to the source. If being awake at 4 am leads to what Thomas got, imagine the penalty for plagiarism.

  • Tonio||

    Suspect that Dunphy won't touch this, Sloop. He's been avoiding the police malfeasance threads here for a while.

    And as much as I'd personally like to see Dunphy eat crow, it's more important to focus our energies on publicizing incidents like Fullerton/Thomas and keeping the outrage going.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Looks like this one's too egregious for Dunphy to even try to spin it.

    -jcr

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    The only way for this movement to succeed is to keep Democrat and Republican opportunist as far the fuck away as possible.

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    *opportunists

  • fresno dan||

    To me, this story is why I believe in limited government. The people who were suppose to be overseeing the police, whether the other police on scene, the police chief, the city council (is there no state oversight???), the prosecutor - it is a long, shameful, dishonorable bunch. Government employees have to always be distrusted.
    Yet, many states still try to outlaw recording of police, despite the OVERWHELMING evidence of widespread police abuse and misconduct. It is obvious this is done to facilitate police abuse.
    Neither party will even bring up the most tepid criticism of the police.
    Can one even DREAM of Obama saying that the many instances of police brutality should cause a more forceful overseeing of the complaints by DOJ?
    And I would expect to see Romney in a video taking it from both ends shouting "I like it - fist me now!" before he would EVER say there is a problem with any cop anywhere, and that anybody who criticises the police are communist Anti American terroist supporters.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yet, many states still try to outlaw recording of police, despite to hide the OVERWHELMING evidence of widespread police abuse and misconduct.

    -ftfy

  • ||

    If this goes on, vigilantism will get rehabilitated.

  • ||

    anybody who criticises the police are communist Anti American terroist supporters

    Depriving citizens of their various rights under color of authority is the anti-American conduct (although it is at least as much human -- ie. power-mongering -- conduct).

  • AlgerHiss||

    Perhaps the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce would like to know about this:

    http://fullertonchamber.com/

    and the City of Fullerton:

    http://ci.fullerton.ca.us/

  • Terrance||

    but the Fullerton reaction shows ed hardy tee shirt that Americans can accomplish

  • XM||

    The crowd that spoke in the city hall made statements about "dragging the officials naked and putting their heads on stick, figuratively of course" (a line from the rabble rousing John and Ken Show). An anonymous group threatened to blow up the city if they didn't release the video. Someone leaked personal information about the officers online. In hindsight, their outrage was justified. But at the time there was some rush to judgment, much like the Trayvon Martin case.

    This is actually is more of a citizen's revolt than it is an attempt at reform. Other than populist police hate and removing the three officials, I don't recall no one has seriously proposed changes to hiring policies or union protection of bad officers. OC isn't as red as you think.

  • joy||

    But the Thomas beating death and the craven response from police and the council majority were so disturbing that it sparked a city-wide revolt led by a local businessman named http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-red-bull-c-54.html Tony Bushala whose blog was a lightning rod for debate. He is leading the recall election.

  • jason||

    Its another case of police brutality its also bring civil protection department under the custody.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Imagine if this had never been captured by video. It doesn't take much effort to assume that is quite likely many citizens have been treated with horrific abuse by thug cops who been rewarded with zero legal repercussions due to the lack of publicly available proof.

    I maintain law enforcement is a cesspool of violence, murder, and corruption of unparalleled scope due to a strategic lock on information and systemic arrogance and indifference toward ethical accountability.

    Absolute power is far more nefarious and addicting than crack, yet people who abuse power, even to totalitarian excess, often escape the wrath of society.

    Remove law enforcement's union capability and give more oversight to citizen groups who can remove ANY law enforcement officer at ANY level through direct vote after a bi-annual appraisal of his/her record.

  • Nanette||

    The killer's families must be so proud of them. They can show their grandkids the video of them killing Kelly and they can see what a decent Nazi human being they have as a grandfather

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