What Kelly Thomas Can Teach Us About the Power of Cameras


Police in Ferguson do not have dashboard cameras and have not yet implemented body cams, though they had purchased the latter prior to the shooting of Michael Brown.

Camera footage would have offered the public important details about the shooting and possibly cleared up the conflicting accounts between officers who say Michael Brown attacked them and eye witnesses who said he was running away when the officer shot him in the back.  

Reason TV's Paul Detrick covered the case of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia who died after Fullerton police sat on him and beat him, in 2011. The case only garnered national attention after a graphic cell phone photo showing Thomas's disfigured face and surveillance footage of the incident emerged. The officers involved eventually faced trial after immense public pressure, but a jury acquitted them.

Watch the video above. The original write-up is below.

The autopsy results from the death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic drifter who was allegedy beaten to death by Fullerton, California police will be announced today by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas will also announce whether he will file charges against the officers involved in Thomas' death, following the office's investigation. The confrontation with police took place at a municipal bus station on July 5, with Thomas dying in the hospital five days later. This press conference comes weeks after the Fullerton police  refused to answer questions about the case.

Regardless of today's announcements, Thomas' death  is a case study of how ubiquitous phones with cameras and the Internet are transferring power from the government, police, and the media to the masses. Images and word of the beating spread not because of official communications but by viral cell phone video of the incident and a horrific hospital photo taken by his father of Thomas in a coma.

We already know how influential citizen video can be from the 1991 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Now that practically everyone has a camera with them on their cell phone or other device, says Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, it is increasingly difficult for authorities to dictate the flow of information.

"Technology has changed so much that we now carry cameras and recorders on our very person everywhere we go so it is very easy to immediately pull them up and take a video of whatever is happening," says German.

That is how the Kelly Thomas video was recorded, but it didn't find its way to the nightly news right away like the Rodney King beating. Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, told Reason.tv that after initial interest, the media stopped covering the story.

"Nothing was going on, I tried contacting everybody, nobody cared to do anything," said Ron Thomas. "So, I released the picture of my son [in his hospital bed] and that got everybody's attention. When the cell phone video came out, I released that. The audio had their attention again. You put together the picture with the sound of what's happening is very, very compelling."

Those images came after the Fullerton police department decided not to release any information, including the names of the officers or even whether Kelly Thomas had a Taser applied to him, a detail that is heard in the video.

Jarrett Lovell, a criminologist at California State University, Fullerton, says the fact Ron Thomas was able to release information before the Fullerton police department's public information officer, Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, underscores a shift in power away from authority to citizens. "That the victim's father, Ron Thomas, was able to release public information before the public information officer from the Fullerton department shows this shift in political power at the local level from police to the citizenry," says Lovell. "Citizens can be the media themselves."

Lovell has written about the role of public information in his book Good Cop/Bad Cop: Mass media and the cycle of police reform, and points out that the Kelly Thomas case seems to be a case study for what public information officers and what law enforcement agencies, "should not do." He says that because the Fullerton police department has not gone public with the facts of the case or released the names of the officers, it looks like they have something to hide. "Public information is essential to keep check on government," says Lovell.

After the photo and video were released, the Fullerton community reacted in outrage at city council meetings and at protests outside the Fullerton police department. Whatever charges are filed (or not) today, the death of Kelly Thomas will remain an example of how new media is changing the old guard.

Written and produced by Paul Detrick, who also narrates. Camera by Detrick, Alex Manning, and Zach Weissmueller. Special thanks to Ron Thomas.

About 8 minutes.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of this video. Subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel for automatic updates when new content is posted.

Related videos:

You're Killing Me: Was a police-related jailhouse death an accident or a homicide?, August 11, 2011

The Killing of Allen Kephart: How the police lost the trust of a law-and-order town, July 5, 2011.

The Government's War on Cameras, May 26, 2011.

Read more: https://reason.com/blog/2014/01/18/reason-tv-replay-cops-vs-cameras-the-kil#ixzz3AaS69Hds


NEXT: Mo. Gov. Who Set Curfew Blames Ferguson Police Chief For Violence

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  1. Kelly Thomas’ murderers still got off scot-free.

    1. That’s because the gang responsible was allowed to crowd the courtroom in all their colors. And they were a actively staring down they jury, and probably had already looked up all of their addresses.

      1. Cops are a vindictive lot. After all, what is a person to do when the cops seek revenge? Call the cops?

        1. Technically, that’s why the second amendment exists. So that we can deal with gang members bent on retaliation and revenge.

      2. The jury foreman was an attorney that did business with law enforcement in Orange County, too.

        I’m sure that was just coincidental to the verdict.

    2. Exactly. Justice! Or….something other than that.

  2. This whole episode is becoming even more fucked up.


    @6:28/6:29 of video
    #1 How’d he get from there to there?
    #2 Because he ran, the police was still in the truck ? cause he was like over the truck
    #2 But him and the police was both in the truck, then he ran ? the police got out and ran after him
    #2 Then the next thing I know he doubled back toward him cus – the police had his gun drawn already on him ?
    #1. Oh, the police got his gun
    #2 The police kept dumpin on him, and I’m thinking the police kept missing ? he like ? be like ? but he kept coming toward him
    #2 Police fired shots ? the next thing I know ? the police was missing
    #1 The Police?
    #2 The Police shot him
    #1 Police?
    #2 The next thing I know ? I’m thinking ? the dude started running ? (garbled something about “he took it from him”)

    1. In other words – another eyewitness says that Michael Brown was bum rushing the police when he was shot.

      1. Why ANYBODY thinks after seeing the convenience store pictures that this was the first time this punk punched someone in the face for not giving him what he wanted, then the cop was only the second person he ever pulled this stunt with, is out of their mind.

        1. Was that him in the convenience store video? Everybody kindof assumes that it was, but I haven’t heard that he definitely was.

          1. I believe most people are going off the clothes (convenience store was wearing the same clothes and shoes), the timing (Brown was shot not long after the robbery) and location (store not far from where Brown was shot). Plus Brown and the person in the store are very big.

            1. And supposedly the cop saw that Brown was carrying a box of cigars while walking down the middle of the street.

        2. He probably did just rob the store and was a punk-thug-wannbe.

          Where *in this situation* does the cop find justification for shooting an unarmed man who the cop *did not know had just committed a felony*?

          Remember – the actual stop was because they guy was walking in the street.

      2. Let me aks you somethin’

        If you and I get in an argument that *I* started, you run away and I pull a gun on you, then you run towards me – does that give me justification for shooting you?

        1. That depends. Is the other guy a cop?

        2. You mean like what happened in the Trayvon Martin affair?

  3. Speaking of riots

    “Can you imagine if there was a deadly virus outbreak in one of the tea party southern communities? there would be such a flood of ignorance and conspiracy theories it would be exhausting. Can you imagine what would happen if a black cop shot and killed an unarmed white kid and didn’t get charged with murder? Yup we have plenty of “primitives” in our own backyard and it’s not a race issue. The thing that amazes me is just how many of the “primitives” get elected. People who don’t know science or economics or history or anything about global healthcare systems.”

    1. Can you imagine if there was a hurricane in New Orleans? There would be such a flood of ignorance and conspiracy theories…

    2. You left out the part where he told us all about GMOs and vaccines causing autism.

      1. Can you imagine if some Rich White Liberal wife of a Manhattan DJ got wind of this?

  4. Yep, we know it happens, that is the issue that must be addressed….but did white people burn down the neighborhood and loot and steal from all the nearby stores?

    1. Nope. They’re too busy working and taking care of their families.

      *ducks and runs*

      1. white blood, amirite

        1. I wasn’t serious. Take a sedative.

          1. Sarcasmic outsarcasmed? What a day!

            1. I detect sarcasm.

    2. They do that for football games.

      1. Hockey, too.

        ‘Memba the kissing rioters?

        Oh, 2011 was such an innocent time!

  5. All the racists come out of the woodwork. Amazing. You’re just looking for an excuse, aren’t you.

    1. Everyone is racist to a degree. It’s human nature. I mean, how do you think races came into existence except by people preferring to reproduce with their own race?

      1. I… I *think* you’re joking.

      2. By being separated from each other for millennia at a time when moving from one place to another was difficult?

        Or are you being sarcastic again?

        1. Like I said, it’s a matter of degrees. Preferring to reproduce with your own race is one thing, wanting to kill those who don’t look like your tribe is another.

          1. Interesting point. You could definitely argue that “racist” and “not a racist” are essentially undefinable socially constructed notions.

            I don’t really have any Hispanic friends. Does that make me racist? Will it make me racist in 2050 as the race hustlers look for more ways to define “racist” differently?

            1. All my friends are fellow whitebreads. Though that probably has something to do with the fact that I live in a state that’s like 95% white. When I lived in Colorado I had friends of all races.

      3. How does people breeding with their own race explain the creation of different races? By definition, everyone would have been the same race before the existence of different races.

        1. See, after the flood, the three sons went their separate ways. Ham, who was cursed for seeing his father naked went to Africa.

          Don’t you know any history?

    2. No, but all the race-baiters do. A statement of fact is not racist, per se. Then again, as your screen name suggests, you love magical thinking.

      1. you love magical thinking.

        He is an anarchist.

        1. You really, really love authority, don’t you, closeted one.

          1. No. I accept the inevitability of men using organized violence as a license to steal. Or, as Ben Franklin put it, nothing is certain except death and taxes.

            1. Yeah, I’m with sarc on this one. If all the cops, politicians, etc evaporated right now, there would be a new govt before the sun set.

              I don’t ever expect to see a world where people don’t systematically coerce each other.

            2. That won’t be an issue anymore once we create the New Libertarian Man.

              1. That won’t be an issue anymore once we create the New Libertarian Man.

                The New Anarchist Man, able to live peacefully without banding together into gangs that use organized violence as a license to steal.

            3. So…you love authority. Got it. How boring.

              1. I think there’s difference between saying X is inevitable and saying you love X.

              2. So…you love authority. Got it. How boring.

                I accept reality. That doesn’t mean I like it.

      2. Keep making those excuses for being a collectivist scumbag. It’s not telling or anything.

    3. I find it very helpful to separate “racism” from “tribalism” They are not the same things. I think that almost all people are subject to tribalism to some degree. That’s pretty much hard wired into out brains.

      Us vs. Them is a survival trait.

      Us vs. Them-are-less-than-human-degenerate-mongrels is a justification for someone that is having emotional trouble dealing with some part of the reality of the first. Usually seems to be some kind of guilt or fear.

      I speak not of sociopaths, who are in their own class, but just otherwise regular members of a tribe.

      1. Us vs. Them is a survival trait.

        There is no “us”; there is only me and you.

        And me vs. you is a survival trait.

        1. Me vs. you is a survival trait but it is not the only level of identity that humans are capable of.

          The ability to move beyond me vs. you to various levels of us vs. them is one of humanity’s greatest evolutionary strengths.

          Within the us vs. them me vs you becomes operative. Outside of it me which may hate your me’s guts and constantly be competing against you will still assist you when we are under threat by them.

          One of the easiest examples of this is soldiers in a military outfit. I served alongside some people that I absolutely couldn’t stand, and had even been in violent confrontations with, but when under threat by an external group we banded together to face it in direct contravention of our existing conflicts.

          1. I’m not arguing that mutual aid can’t exist, or even that it isn’t a positive. However, it is telling that you use the term “identity”. What I am arguing is that identifying one’s ego with a family, tribe, or nation is a fallacy of equivocation. These groups are merely collections of individuals; they possess no independent substance or reality, but rather emerge as a temporary condition from the common action of individuals working together. I cite Locke’s bundle theory here.

            1. I’m a Buddhist, as well, so you are not going to get a fundamental argument against Emptiness from me, but as a practical matter people can and do extend their own identities at times to ideas beyond the self. Or, it could be said that they incorporate membership in a group into the self, and, having done so, there exist individuals who are lost or directionless without the input or interaction with a that group. It doesn’t have to be permanent, although in some cases it can be fatal to break it.

              (I’ve seen this personally with a person in long term remission from substance abuse who was heavily active in AA who relapsed and was unable to bear the thought of no longer being a member of that group. By which I mean I saw the suicide note with words to that effect. Not rational thinking, of course, but the results were unfortunately real. Who this individual was, to his own self, to an important enough a degree to commit suicide over losing, a member of a group.)

              I’ll listen to a debate all day long about if this is a healthy behavior, a rational behavior, etc. but I have personally seen too many examples of it functioning to deny that it exists.

        2. There is no “us”; there is only me and you.

          Do you have a family? Because I used to think that way until I had a kid. There’s definitely an “us.” The mistake collectivists make is extending familial “us” to strangers, and doing it with coercion.

          1. My daughter and I are a “us” because I made a choice to associate with her. My wife and I could have always aborted her, or left her to die from exposure, or sent her to an orphanage, etc. Likewise, at a certain age, she could always “disown” me as a father. My essential “me-ness” doesn’t depend on my relation to her, nor hers upon her relationship with me.

            Again, this is about what is the fundamental unit, the Higgs boson if you will, of humanity; is it the individual or not?

            1. I suppose.

            2. The Higgs-Boson of humanity, huh?

              I like that. If I gain enough weight, will my gravitational pull become strong enough that I can pull other humans to me, in an attempt to make some kind of human super molecule?

              Like one of those 50 foot movie monsters made out of people?

              1. If I gain enough weight, will my gravitational pull become strong enough that I can pull other humans to me, in an attempt to make some kind of human super molecule?

                If you get really, really fat will you draw a female close enough to reproduce? No.

  6. OT: I got another letter to the editor published in the local paper. You can read it here. Apparently, I fooled a large number of progs into thinking I was serious until the middle of it.

    Here is my most recent letter, which I wrote in response to the local DA bragging about a drug bust.

    1. I see Mary comments on your blog, too. 🙁

      1. Mary’s word salad can convey some basic emotions, but it’s a stretch to say she “comments”.

        1. I like to call it “Scree”.

          I imagine that’s the sound it makes when it’s angry, which is always.

  7. What Kelly Thomas Can Teach Us About the Power of Cameras

    That it’s a nice start but really doesn’t get to the core of the actual problem?

  8. The guys who killed Kelly Thomas got off. I don’t see how it teaches anything. The camera wasn’t powerful enough to ensure justice was done. So what does it matter?

    1. The video affected public opinion and convinced some people to see cops for the danger that they are.

      1,000 or 10,000 more will move opinion enough to end the cops reign of terror.

    2. At least he got fired.

      1. He was also publicly shamed out of a Denny’s, right?

  9. Kelly Thomas can’t teach us anything because police officers beat him to death and walked away without being penalized.

    1. If there is a lesson, it is that if you want any justice, you better start burning shit down and rioting. Otherwise, no one cares.

      1. ^^This^^ is probably said in jest but it’s probably also the truth.

        Too bad they were burning down businesses in Ferguson and not burning down the police stations in Irvine, LA, etc.

        1. If they did that they would have been mowed down.

          1. If they did that they would have been mowed down.

            Yep, they will stand by and do nothing to protect the people who pay their salaries but you can bet they would protect their shit with deadly force.

      2. You Know Who Else thought Mob Violence was the only way to get justice?

      3. You Know Who Else thinks that theft and destruction of property are just if they are for the greater good?

        1. The local zoning board?

        2. The Supreme Court?

    2. No matter if justice was served or not, (it was not, obviously)the ubiquity of video can show those who live in the bubble of “cops are good guys” that it is rarely true.

      The Rodney King beating pierced the veil obscuring the LAPD’s reputation out of LA. The Internet and video have spread that around even further, bypassing the media spin and filter on displaying how bad and evil cops are (not can be, but _are_)

      Eventually the world’s perceptions will catch up with technology, and I hope it’s sooner rather than later. Even Presidents are having a hard time forcing a narrative when raw footage is available all over the world, contradicting their bullshit.

      That’s my hope at least. (There will always be “TEAM” players of course. Just look at what passes for journalism in this country.)

      1. I’d agree with you if more than a handful of us still gave a shit about Kelly Thomas being murdered. Shit, most of the people in LA have already forgotten about it, let alone the rest of the country.

        The same goes for the trigger-happy goons that tried to murder three people they had net even identified during the Dorner manhunt. And yes,those shooters are already back on the job after learning the lesson that they are above the law even when they admit that they shot two he idles fill of lead that they didn’t even bother to ID the occupants of.

        The world’s perception will never catch up with technology because the majority of the world like to be controlled…because if they’re controlled it means the people they dislike or disagree with will likewise be controlled.

        1. It’s a lot to take in all at once. You can’t undo decades, no centuries of authority worship overnight.

          We might not see the results for a while, but we can’t give up.

          I don’t have much faith in the true _TEAM_ members… they are indoctrinated beyond help. The ones who are just getting wind of this are who we need to start convincing.

          It’d be much simpler if we could rein in our education system… perhaps if we start there, we can undo the programming, so to speak.

          I have a little bit of faith left in humanity, but not very much. I think deep down people only want to feel safe. That drives most of the non-masochists to cling to government as a baby chimp does to its mom. If we can articulate a proper alternative (Reason is a big start in that. It changed my perceptions… before I didn’t realize how wrong I was about some things I held close to the vest.) Drugs was one of those topics. As well as military might (having grown up in the Cold War, post-Cuban Missile Crisis.)

          I hope I don’t become too cynical as time goes on. I guess I’m not quite ready to thrown in the towel and watch the world burn….

  10. So, the other day I asked Tony why he’s OK with power inequality but not wealth inequality. Here’s his response.

    And he made another nocturnal raid in response to this.

    He just has to get the last word in. Scroll to the final comment to see.

    1. I noticed all the conservatives over at Bratbitch.com are siding with the police in Ferguson.

      Why do conservatives love power inequality?

      1. Sure they are. That is why you provided a link and examples.

        We understand that you are retarded. But why do you think we are too?

        1. It could be racism.


          “Ship them all back to Africa” got 75 recs from the fine conservatives at Bratbitch.

          1. “kill Sarah Palin” gets 5 million hits on Google. Why are progs such violent misogynists?

      2. You’re late. There was a big discussion on a thread here a few days ago about conservatives, particularly at Breitbart, taking the pro-police line. Most of the commenters here were hard on them.

        1. The commnenters here tend to know better.

          The pro-police conservative faction at Bratbitch are the subject.

          1. I don’t get what you are saying in this comment at all.

            1. You cited a thread here (at H&R) that agreed with my take on how pro-police conservatives and/or Breitbart readers are.

              I added that H&R commenters tend to know better (than the riff-raff at Breitbart).

              1. OK, that makes sense.

                I think there are indeed many at sites like Breitbart that are in the pocket of the police, but I find the comments at many left wing sites to be somewhat as unfortunate since they have to frame this not as about police brutality per se but about ‘no justice for the Black man!’ relentlessly, as if whites, especially poor ones, aren’t mistreated by police often.

                But I’ll grant you that ‘the police stink because they oppress the black man’ is better than ‘the police should be supported because they are the thin blue line protecting us from urban thugs.’

          2. Overall, there are as many (or as few) conservatives upset with police abuse as there are liberals. It might have been different at one time, but the “stick it to the man” a-holes on the left have gone establishment. Liberals are often silent while conservatives sites (like The Blaze and WND) are all over it.

            It’s not just police abuse. Consider the ATF massacre in Waco or IRS goons with SWAT team back up. We used to depend on Bernie Sanders to challenge state power; now we depend on Rand Paul.

            When I criticize police I get just as much grief from liberal friends as I do from conservative friends.

        2. Forget it Bo – it’s shriekville.

      3. They are responding to the eyewitness who supports the contention that Brown bum-rushed the cop. This hardly constitutes cop worship.

  11. Fucking Jeff fucking Gordon AGAIN. Ain’t got nothin’ for them Chevies….


    1. I so want him to win the “chase” this year. It would halfway make up for the two championships he’s been robbed of by rules changes designed to punish him and him alone.

      1. Good news… he’s #1 in both categories and definitely in the chase. I think he has a legitimate shot this year. I hope to FSM that wenis Jimmie Johnson doesn’t get another championship.

        The commentators and talking heads of NASCAR can’t get enough of his man-juices.

  12. Camera footage would have offered the public important details about the shooting and possibly cleared up the conflicting accounts between officers…

    Which is precisely why they haven’t yet been put to use.

  13. Obama’s JOBS Act spurs investment boon:

    A two-year-old U.S. law designed to make it easier for small companies has turned into a boon for the country’s stock markets.

    The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act has spurred 25 percent more U.S. initial public offerings annually, according to a research paper by economists at Penn State University and the State University of New York at Buffalo. That generates listing fees for the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market, a rare bright spot for the industry amid allegations that trading venues favor some customers versus others.

    “Listings drive revenue,” said Niamh Alexander, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York. Though the fees account for less than 15 percent of revenue, she said, “it’s very, very important to have growth in the number of companies listed, and to have a pipeline of IPOs



      You are killing me today shreek. Where did you get such a sense of humor?

    2. Clearly, a bill passed with bipartisan support should be credited entirely to the President who signed it.

      1. Obama’s

        Funny how the wiki entry does not even mention your man crush’s name once, but it is “Obama’s”.


        1. Only “good” laws come from the President. Bad ones are all the legislatures’ fault. 🙂

          It’s funny how a willful ignorance of the process makes people fully indignant when their “team” tries to take credit for something. This cognitive dissonance will get much worse if the Republicans control both chambers in 2015.

  14. I guess what you dont know wont hurt.


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