Cops vs. Cameras: The Killing of Kelly Thomas and the Power of New Media


This video includes graphic images. Viewer discretion is advised.

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.

Scroll down 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.


The Orange County District Attorney's Office has charged Officer Manuel Ramos with one felony count of second degree murder and one felony count of felony manslaughter.

Officer Jay Cicinelli faces one felony count of manslaughter and a felony count of excessive force.

For more on the charges against the officers, check out Mike Rigg's live blog of the press conference.

For developing news on the Kelly Thomas case, visit the Friends for Fullerton's Future blog.

NEXT: Nick Gillespie Talks Unemployment and Stimulus on Freedom Watch

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  1. I think cops are just going to start killing people who film them, once it happens a few times no one will have the courage to do it and we'll be back to square one.

    1. I don't know if they'll go that far, but expect them to start confiscating any recording device they can find in the vicinity of their brutality.

      They're already doing that in a lot of cases. One in Bakersfield that happened in the last year or so really sticks out. As does another where they managed to disable a woman's phone for like three years after arresting her. They said she got her phone back so they complied with the letter of the law.

      It won't stop until they kill the children of a few elected officials and/or their unions are dismantled.

      1. The increase use of phones/cameras that directly upload video to the cloud/internet will make confiscation useless.

        1. Yes. I recently installed the Periscope app for just this purpose.

        2. That's we proles shouldn't be allowed to post things on the web. Someone needs to think of the children

  2. "Since cell phone technology began to incorporate cameras, there has been a shift in power at the local level from law enforcement to citizens."

    I think this misses an important point, which is that real positive change only comes when people persistently vote for Democrats.

    I don't know how or why, but Salon says it's true, and anybody that disagrees with Salon is a stupid redneck.

  3. The cops and their backers always say it's one bad apple. The video of the beating of the horse thief shows other wise..That dept. has a whole damn bushel!

    1. It's poor training. If we get a new chief, it'll be totally different. Or, we could give the current chief a lot more money for new training.

      1. Training doesn't stop a person from beating some one to death - or horse. Cops argue that their "training" is what condones this behavior to begin with.

        1. *horse theif

        2. I was channeling Elle Woods. I thought

          give the current chief a lot more money

          was sufficient to light the Bat signal.

          1. No joke = NYC council speaker says, "Let's Reform Police Department - but Give Them More Money and People First, Because Democracy"

            See, because you always need to pretend to be caring about 'racism' and 'oppression' and shit when you're pumping the city tax-till for MOAR MOAR MOAR

    2. We need MASSIVE infusions of $$$ to the State Colleges and Universities and require PhD-level training for ALL LEOs, to train and educate them in every last nuance, down to the last legal jot and tittle, on just EXACTLY one should beat the shit out of offenders (or kill them dead), in a SENSITIVE and NON-RACIST manner! THAT will fix it all, trust me!

      1. ...duh... My orphan spell-checkers are gonna get a spankering...

        ...EXACTLY (how) one should beat the shit out of offenders ...

  4. Reason TV showed how one Southern California community was able to hold a local police department accountable after a horrific police beating of a mentally ill drifter in Fullerton, Calif. Watch:

    How the hell was anyone held accountable for murdering Kelly Thomas? Care to explain that to his family? No one was held accountable because Thomas was white. Fuck this shit, Reason, stop giving the racist minions of the Democratic party pause to keep doing the evil which they are doing under the guise of race.

    1. Some grocery clerk might give them a dirty look. Or at least think about it really hard. And they got laughed at on Facebook, that has to count for something.

    2. That's exactly the sentiment I was going to express. "Accountable"? Hardly. Their first line was that they had viewed the video and were investigating, but everything was handled well by their fine and upstanding officers. It took a near riot to get from there to re-evaluating procedures. And another near riot to get charges brought against a couple of the officers involved. Charges which were clearly prosecuted in a half-assed manner.

      If you can't get a murder conviction against someone who shakes a fist in a 135 pound homeless man's face as he sits peacefully on a curb and says "you see this? This is gonna fuck you up!" - on video - and then proceeds to beat him to death in front of a dozen witnesses as he begs for his life - on video - you don't belong in a court of law. That they didn't even bother with trying for murder charges told us where the whole thing was headed, even before the verdicts were handed down.

      Yeah, "accountable" is the right word for that....

  5. Speaking of video, the Slager/Scott case may not be all that cut and dried as it first seemed.

    If Scott used the Taser on Slager and Slager thought that, despite the distance separating the men, that was still a danger to him his actions might seem justifiable to a jury.

    1. Add to this the reactionary-perception gap and if a struggle for the Taser between them ensued, then he may have a defense. If he is successful, then he is found not guilty of murder. If he did plant say the Taser next to Scott's body, then there must be some type of crime. Then the defense becomes, he knew he would be crucified for the shooting. Look, they are trying to crucify him.

      Say he gets acquitted. Then he gets a settlement from the city for wrongful firing. Then he writes a book bought by guilty liberals who participated in an electronic lynch mob and are trying to atone for the intrinsic hatred of the working class. Then he retires to Arizona.

      Is this a great country or what?

      1. The American people may do the wrong thing after exhausting all other possiblilites. Your crazy hypothetical isn't all that crazy.

        1. It isn't all that crazy, given what we've already seen, but that dog ain't gonna hunt. The tribe has already cut him off, so he won't be getting the free pass from the state.

          Absent the video he would have been able to fly the "he grabbed my taser" line all the way to freedom. But the video torpedos that defense.

          The defense you bring up is probably accurate. He probably remembered his training as soon as the struggle over the taser took place and the "deadly force authorized" switch in his brain got flipped - because that's what he was taught. Once the decision was made, he never re-evaluated what was happening, he just drew his weapon and fired. Into the back of a fleeing man who was no threat at the time.

          It certainly makes more sense than the notion that this guy just felt like he would go out and shoot somebody that day. But there are some mistakes that you don't get to make. If I was on the jury, a well argued version of that defense might get me to vote for negligent homicide instead of premeditated murder. Maybe. But I'll guarantee that you and I would never get that deference if we made the same mistake.

    2. If Scott used the Taser on Slager and Slager thought that, despite the distance separating the men, that was still a danger to him his actions might seem justifiable to a jury.

      Oh and by the way, after the Kelly Thomas case, I have no doubt the jurors will find something justifiable about the shooting.

      1. That was a case where the prosecutor wasn't even really trying, if I recall correctly. I would think that in a case like this, if the prosecutor actually tries (and that would seem to be possible in this case considering the reactions to the shooting by the chief of police), even a retarded jury would convict.

        I hope I'm not being too optimistic. I probably am.

    1. Ok so, can I get some background? Again I feel like I stepped into the middle of a conversation that has some kind of background story that I'm going to have to research to understand your link.

      1. Basically the biggest awards in Science Fiction have been the Hugo awards.

        For recent history, they've basically been controlled by SJWs and given to the most SJW pieces, not the best science fiction works.

        The last few years, an author named Larry Correia has tried to change this stranglehold the SJWs have on the awards. And this year he has succeeded, which has upset a lot of left wingers/SJWs

        Which sadly, seems to include Mr. Martin, who has made some asinine statements.


        1. For recent history, they've basically been controlled by SJWs and given to the most SJW pieces, not the best science fiction works.

          The Hugos have always been politicized.

          1. ...and we've always been at war with Eastasia....

        2. So before your response, I've been googling furiously to find out what this is "about".

          your summary did more in 30 seconds than did 10 minutes of googling. I've got something about puppies, someone in the thread looking for a good bar/restaurant in Santa Fe or something, a bunch of people that are accusing GRRM of "running away", something about black people, a good deal about a ring and a dark lord...

          1. You should go look at the winners for best short story the last couple of years. It's...laughable. It's astonishing how SJWs suck the life and pleasure out of everything, since they have none of their own anyway. They literally are incapable of understanding art, which is why they will happily put the worst conceivable, but politically "correct", shit forward since it's all the same to them art-wise, and since politics is all they know.

            1. It's why I've stopped subscribing to and reading both Asimov's and Analog. If I had to read yet another fucking Kij Johnson story, I would have gone nuts.

              1. You should subscribe so you can cancel your subscription in disgust.

            2. This story won a Nebula and was nominated for a Hugo. It's a fast read, especially considering that your eyes are likely to glaze over rather quickly, or you'll need to rush to the bathroom.

              1. W.T.F?

                *** goes back to read comments ***

                1. A Nebula. Incredible.

                2. Cathy - April 24, 2014
                  Wow ? It's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, only for grown-ups. Great story!

                  There is no possible way this isn't a facetious statement.

              2. This story reminds me of the video of the girl opening a can labelled "spagettios", dipping out excrement, and smearing her vagina with it.

            3. Holy crap! Just looked through the winners, starting with Best Novel. What happened in 2000? Harry Potter? Best SF? Jeezus...

              *goes back to C.M. Kornbluth, drinks hot cocoa*

        3. Wait a sec, is there a writer somewhere in Utah with a black wife that's implicated in all of this?

          1. "He can still be a racist!!!" /prog

          2. Brad Torgersen. He's the one who organized it this year. Larry Correia was the organizer for the last two years.

    2. I have a hard time getting worked up about awards.

      1. I found myself miffed on Correia's behalf after reading through his response to Martin, but then I recalled that lefties love nothing better than throwing themselves extravagant parties to stage their Potemkin-like award shows and convince each other and the narrow world around them that they hold the cultural high ground. I mean, obviously, the must. How else do they keep winning all those awards?

  6. So Feidin Santana saw something suspicious happening and he just instinctively whipped out his phone and started shooting? You know who else was on the scene and just started instinctively shooting without thinking about what or why he was shooting? But I'm sure Santana's phone came with an instruction manual that trained him how to shoot video with his phone - maybe cops could use an instruction manual.

    1. You know who else was on the scene and just started instinctively shooting without thinking about what or why he was shooting?

      The NYPD?

    2. Patterson and Gimlin?

      1. Gimlin:Son of Gloin?

    3. Zapruder?

  7. If a cop gets tasered by naughty boy riding a Mercedes and that cop kills a bitch is it OK according to gun culture bros? Conversely, if one gets tasered wrongfully by a cop is it self-defense if we kill that particular bitch? Cuz what Warren posts above.... and cop laws generally follow the social banter. Or are cops, according to some conservative worlds, better than all the gun-owners?

      1. So gun owners should these bitches before we die if we fear for our lives then. I'm cool with that.

        1. should 'shoot' these bitches before we die if all sorts of strange freudian storm clouds and all but Fox News doesn't believe in defending our storm clouds, right?

          1. I'm confluxed by all the gun rights and haters.... if I'm black and I should some punkass cop because he's fucking with me for no reason is this OK with CNN?

            1. I should shoot... like kill some punkass cop for fucking with me with his hate and tasers.... wait.... but, even on CNN black boys really can't defend themslaves right?

              If a nigger was about to get shot dead by some punkass dummy loser cop and that nigger drew a gun and defended his nigger ass self would CNN and MSNBC and FOX be OK wid all this ghetto rollin'?

              1. Is CNN and those funky progs on MSNBC ok with niggers defending their black asses from corrupt coke-planters which makes up like 60% percent of the state muscle? Is the problem here with the term nigger? because this white ass has been called a fucking cracker or honkey for at leat the first 20 years of his existence but I get the state abuse issue so... back to square one...

                1. you really are insufferable. take your spacecadet bullshit back to erowid. its grating.

            2. As deputies tried to handcuff Harris, Bates arrived with a pepper spray gun in hand. He warned his fellow deputies he was going to use a Taser on the suspect, but instead, he fired a single gunshot -- and immediately apologized, Clark said, citing a recently released video.

              Clark attributed Bates' actions to a phenomenon known as "slip and capture." An example is when someone who drives a car with a manual transmission gets behind the wheel of a car with an automatic transmission. The driver will press her or his left foot down when stopping abruptly, even though there's no clutch pedal, he said... In the last minutes of the video, Harris lies on the pavement with police on top of him. An officer calls for a Taser, but in place of an electric clicking sound, a gunshot rings out.

              A voice can be heard saying, "Oh! I shot him! I'm sorry!" Another officer screams out, "He shot him! He shot him!"

              Harris, who is bleeding, calls out, too. He's losing his breath, he says. An officer yells back at him.

              "You f**king ran! Shut the f**k up!" he yells. "F**k your breath," he said.

              Clark defended the officer's language, saying the deputy experienced auditory exclusion, never heard the gunshot and thought the suspect was out of breath from running. The language has no bearing on whether the shooting was justified, Clark said.

              1. Slip and capture. Auditory exclusion. Anything, anything, so Clark's boys don't have to take responsibility for what they have done.

                1. I now understand the Heroic in front of the Mulatto...

                  the community bicep has been encountered and for that I shall raise my 230 pounds of solid muscle and quaff an entire high gravity stout.

                2. I think those are more explanations than exonerations.

                3. "'inattentional blindness,' meaning that he wasn't consciously paying attention"

                  "Two simple words in the English language"

              2. Anyone involved with the hiring, training and supervision of a cop who couldn't tell the difference between a stun gun and a real pistol with is a danger to life and safety.

                A cop who couldn't hear a gun go off while standing near the guy who fired it needs to be reassigned to janitorial duty.

                And anyone who defends the actions of this lethal clown show with crap like "audio exclusion" and "slip and capture" needs tarring an feathering.

                1. Again, I don't they're "defending" so much as explaining. We had a similar case a few years ago, when Oscar Grant was shot by a cop who intended to use his taser. It's clear from the video that the moment it happened, he realized his mistake.

        2. The use of lethal force in defense of property is a question of principle, not pragmatics. Depending upon the philosophical approach of the victim, the use of lethal force may be justifiable or the restraint from using lethal force may also be justifiable. One can't justify, however, the setting of a single rule either way for everyone: It's like the absurdity of "objective morality". One can, however, condemn the reactionary use or non-use of lethal force; the decision should follow naturally as a matter of principle for each person. There's no excuse for not having sufficient character to respond to threats to property with principled intention.

    1. If a cop gets tasered by naughty boy riding a Mercedes and that cop kills a bitch is it OK according to gun culture bros?

      Totality of circs.

      Scott was, by any reasonable account, disengaging from the officer and had put considerable distance between himself and the officer.

      Short quiz: Paul, gun culture guy, gets in fisticuffs with a ruffian. The ruffian, begins to run away, putting at least 15 yards between Paul. and himself. Paul. shoots ruffian eight times in the back.

      Is the shooting justified?

      If not, does Paul.:

      1. Get a promotion in his job.
      2) Get fired from his job.
      C: Spend the rest of his life in a dark hole, and not the good kind.

      1. So if you was a nigger (or nigga cuz I'm a sweet honkey cracker punkass) and some strutting dick with a badge decided to kill you one night because his 22 year-old retarded ass was handed a badge by a local dinosaur with a brain the size of the average human pinky... would you submit to prison by having all sorts of shit planted on your dumbass or would you fucking kill the motherfucking shortbus cop pointing a gun at you?


    WE ARE WINNING! Booyah!


  9. Cracked runs a pro net neutrality article. The comments are as bad as you might expect.


  10. Turkey vs. the Papacy (not for the first time in history):


    1. It's always good to irk the Turk.

  11. Fucking entire goddamn bottle of precious double simcoe pounded for my boy Heroica Mullatto.... A sngle fucking shot of all yours liqours are far easier to down than an entire bottle of fucking Double simcoe in one fucking single drag... bitches... Heroica Mutambollato is the beast

    1. Right back at you with my 3rd whiskey and amaretto of night, brother.

      1. the goddamn priest of the threads,,, a simple courtesy paid to this icon... I shall also raise an additional fucking bottle to the fucking priest

  12. So, America/Gawker/Slate/Salon/The intercept, we need film of a black dude killing an american shit-eating cop of conservative blood with a cute badge jumping on a nigger head for not having a blinking tail light. Will this make the conservative fucks in the gun rights crowd croon? because an AMERICAN protected his RIGHTS! nah... he's black and didn't suck a cops dick... will this make the progressives croon.... eh, NO! GUNS SUCK in nigger or honkey hands....

    Wait, is this honkey ass bitch offending the interwebs?

  13. Has America ever been more confused about human rights?

    Bitches be all like all the niggas be getting shitted on by the goddamn whore cops and all the conservatives be like my Jesus is bein' fucked with so I have no freedom to altar orgasm and progs are all gettin weirded out by everything in general because their black Jesus has been running the fucking show for the last fucking 8 years....

    The world in 'Murica is getting flummoxed, pretties.

    1. You got it wrong, Man. The peace officer is colourblind. He doesn't see race. He only sees DISFAVOURED SUBJECT, somebody he can fuck with no repercussions, someone whose cause will not be defended by the h?gstaaende borgerne of the community, either cause of being disfavoured specificly as an individual or for being part of a disfavoured group. If necessary, they can always fabricate a few more labels after the fact if somebody does get noisome about. So, he was a Negro. Also, it turns out, a bum. And he used to HAVE TROUBLE WITH THE LAW. And he was a rabid atheist. People used to see him round town yelling at children and beating off dogs. With a stick. Oh, and guess what, he was MENTALLY ILL. So, bloody hell, what else can a self-respecting, godfearing peace officer of the purest fascist blood do when he comes face to face with the great slugfather of all motivated deviants? The guy was a walking cultural BLACK HOLE, ripping apart and annihilating our American ways wherever the keepers let him stray too near. It makes a person pine for the good old days, when they fucked with somebody just because he was a damned hippie or an Indian strayed off the reservation, and that was enough for everybody. It's such a fucking sham. Folks never fail to disappoint the dickens out of a person.

  14. America is a bursting political nebula and maybe she'll never be the star she once was and I'd be lying if I said I didn't care... I do... and maybe the last dying breath of this thing is the Libertarian vein.

  15. I accidentally heard Herman Cain on his talk show the other day (yep, he's got a radio show) say that we should all just

    "OBEY the cops. Follow their instructions. Shut up and do what you're told. Do this and you will be safe."

    These may not be exact quotes, but they're damn close.

    1. Well, you certainly don't wanna lock eyes with em.

    2. Civil disobedience is a luxury for white folks in relatively affluent suburban neighborhoods with no particular concern about personal safety and for whom rectifying the police state is a hobby. I don't think Herman Cain is any more or less pro-cop than your average conservative, but since a not insignificant fraction of his ethnic group brush shoulders with cops on a not terribly irregular basis, advising them to SHUT UP, OBEY, SAY YES SIR AND THANK YOU is probably the best advice possible. Lawyer up and fight your battles afterward. Cops are not there to dispense justice or right wrongs but to pad their quotas and engage in blood sport.

      1. I agree with most of what you say. But my inference of what he said was that we should do what we're told not only because it keeps us safe, but because 99% of the cops out there are good cops.

        1. because 99% of the cops out there are good cops.

          Yep. He's been banging that drum for a while.

        2. Sure. And for Cain, that might well be the truth. I doubt he lives in a blighted urban area and encounters the same variety of cop, assuming he encounters any at all. 99% of cops may well be fair-minded arbiters of morality and justice with a deferential inclination toward the civilians over whom they stand guard (although, let's be honest, this probably isn't the case). Even assuming that, I very much doubt the average officer in rural Idaho is comparable in terms of personal attitude or professional behavior to a cop in L.A. or St. Louis.

          1. (I kinda distracted myself rebutting Cain's probable attitude, and I meant to add that I agree with you about the execrable notion that cops are mostly good with a few bad ones thrown in. All that tells me is that most cops haven't figured out how to rig the system in their favor, but that the system is made to be rigged.)

        3. So we should submit to the usurper because ninety-nine per cent of usurper's are good usurpers? If some armed hooligan waylays a person on the public right of way and demands obediance and submission, he's a tyrant. There's no way to rationalise this behavior into any semblance of "good". Bloody hell, it's their fucking job to tyrannise and harrass the populace. Maybe some of them find a way to fit the defense of property somewhere in the mess of abuse and harrassment they got to do every day, but even then it's got to be totally arbitrary, defending property in this case, and violating it in that, and so forth. It's been a long time since a person could make a living as a peace officer only assisting in the execution of lawful orders. Worser, more and more professions are getting sucked into service as agents of control. It's nigh impossible to practice as a physician of any kind these days without being pressed into service assisting in the harrassment and abuse of the subjects according to the arbitrary directives of the state. Pricks! Pricks! Pricks!

    3. Papaya = Herman Cain?

      1. Haha, no. It's just a common sense position, obvious to those not blinded by ideology. It's not a desire to worship authority or excuse police misconduct. It's just common sense to know when to pick your battles, and to know that cops are often dangerous people, and so it's prudent to treat them that way.

    4. Flava Cain is a trip. He loves his big gov police state.

    5. That's like saying, "OBEY our Lord-under-the-Sea. Make prayers of adoration and thanksgiving and offer blood sacrifices to Him. Do this, and you will be safe." No. If Cthulhu wakes up from his nap and notices anybody, that person is probably fucked, no matter what he's doing or how he came to attract that diabolic attention. But if he is properly worshipful, there is perhaps some slight chaunce of escaping from that attention and being ignored again. Still, one might get crushed by accident, but the only safe state is that of never attracting notice in the first place. Not only is submission to the tyrant an offense against decency and the safety and morals of our brotherman, but it is no guarantee of safety.

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