Ron Thomas and his lawyer, Garo Miradrossian. Image stolen from the OC Register.

Ron Thomas and his lawyer, Garo Miradrossian. Image stolen from the OC Register.

UPDATE: It is now being widely reported that Ron Thomas has accepted an offer by the City of Fullerton to settle his civil case for the amount of $ 4.9 million. The City Council is reportedly constrained from releasing any details, pending another special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, November 25, 8:00 a.m.

NOTE: The posted agenda lists the meeting as beginning at 8:00 a.m, although the page listing meetings of the council shows a start time of 9:00 a.m. (Update: This discrepency between the start times has been corrected—it will begin at 8:00 a.m.) Who can say which time is correct? but both are on the day before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, allowing the council to dispense with this duty prior to it’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Following is the text currently appearing on the City of Fullerton’s website:  ‘Richard Jones, City Attorney: “The City of Fullerton, through its attorneys and related insurance company attorneys, has worked to bring an end to a civil case arising from the officer-involved death of Kelly Thomas in July of 2011. The contemplated settlement has been negotiated by the City’s insurers and has been reviewed by the City. No City funds are involved in this settlement. The settlement amount is still pending final approval by the City’s insurers and therefore will not be announced by the City at this time.”’


The Fullerton City Council has scheduled a “Special Meeting” tomorrow morning, Monday, November 23 at 9:00 a.m. There is only one item on the agenda, the civil court case “Frederick Ron Thomas v. City of Fullerton. et al.” Ever since his mentally ill son Kelly was beaten into a brain dead coma by officers of the Fullerton Police Department, Ron Thomas has been promising to do everything he can to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. To that end, Mr. Thomas filed suit not only against Fullerton, but also against the specific officers involved, as well as then-Chief of Police Michael Sellers and his immediate predecessor in the position, Chief Patrick McKinley.

Jury selection had barely commenced last week, but Friday evening radio station KFI was reporting that Mr. Thomas and the City of Fullerton had agreed to a settlement in the case. The rumored amount is $ 3 million. The meeting Monday morning will be held in Closed Session, meaning that members of the public will not be allowed to follow the City Council into their meeting room in the back, where the item will be discussed, but may offer comments in the main Council Chambers before they do so. This is a standard procedure when the City Council discusses legal cases. If we’re lucky, there will be a public report later.

It’s been a long road for Ron Thomas and his supporters, and anyone else outraged at the brutal treatment his late son received at the hands of Fullerton Police Officers four and a half years ago in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Station. Mr. Thomas maintained a high public profile to ensure that the public would not forget what had happened, but his case was dealt a blow when a jury found two of the officers not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges early last year, leading to charges against a third officer being dropped by the District Attorney. With Garo Mardirossian as his lawyer, Mr. Thomas pressed on, seeking the only justice left for his son.

Following the January, 2014 criminal trial verdict in favor of former Fullerton Police Officer Manual Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, Mr. Mardirossian said of the civil case “These officers avoided taking the stand in front of this jury. They didn’t have to answer any hard questions about why they did what they did…I’ll be calling each one of them to the stand in Orange County and let the jury see the whole story.”

OC Register, January 15, 2014, Father of Kelly Thomas says fight is ‘not over’

The bitter disappointment many felt when the DA failed to secure guilty verdicts against those seen on videotape needlessly beating the life out of Kelly Thomas was tempered slightly by the promise of a civil trial, where those same officers might be compelled to take the witness stand and face a cross examination by Attorney Mardirossian. The prospect of both Michael Sellers and Pat McKinley testifying about their roles in setting policy for the troubled department offered some hope to those seeking a forum for establishing the need for civilian oversight of the FPD. Alas, it seems now, that none of these things will come to pass.

The terms of the rumored settlement aren’t available, and even if they were, it wouldn’t be appropriate for The Rag or anyone else to dictate to the plaintiff how he ought to handle a settlement offer. It’s Ron Thomas’ case, after all, but it will certainly disappoint many who supported him and his cause if a closed door monetary settlement abruptly ends the proceedings. True, the city will have to pay a substantial amount of money to the victim’s father, which will represent an indisputable admission that his son was gravely wronged by those in uniform, but many had hoped to see some public accountability, some testimony, at last, by those accused of the terrible beating as well as by the men who trained and supervised them.

The City of Fullerton certainly has incentive to end the case before any such testimony occurs. Nothing could be worse for city hall or the police department than to hear that its officers were poorly trained and needlessly pummeled a confused, mentally ill man into a coma from which he never awoke. Instead, the public’s checkbook will be the instrument of justice—and silence, if reports are true, leaving us all to wonder what might have been.


One possible district map.

One possible district map.

As readers may know, Fullerton is attempting to settle two lawsuits brought over the lack of diversity on our city council by agreeing to put the question of district-based elections before the voters in 2016. If the lawsuit’s plaintiffs like the result of the election, they’ll drop the suits. But first, the city government has to figure out what kind of district model to put before the voters. How many districts should there be? And where should the lines be drawn? And how do we expect people who are supposedly disenfranchised by a majority of voters to prevail in an election to give them more power when the oppressive majority could easily defeat the measure just by doing what it always does, voting to keep it’s own hegemony?

Back to the process…

Instead of putting several models of improved democracy before the voters, city leaders plan to produce a single one, and hope it passes. (And who is to say you can’t come up with a better plan and put it on the ballot too?). To that end, they’ve hired Compass Demographics to meet with residents, and come up with the fairest plan of them all. You can meet directly with David Ely of Compass on the following dates at the following times and tell him what you think we ought to do.

From the City of Fullerton’s press release….

Mr. Ely will be happy to see you at any of these four meetings:

• Wednesday, November 4, 2015 – 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Orangethorpe United Methodist Church – 2351 West Orangethorpe Avenue

• Saturday, November 7, 2015 – 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at Hope International University – 2500 East Nutwood Avenue

• Tuesday, November 10, 2015 – 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Maple Neighborhood Center – Lemon Park, 701 South Lemon

• Saturday, November 14, 2015 – 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at Sunny Hills High School – 1801 Warburton Way

According to the City’s press release, “Translators will be present to assist with language needs in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese.

R.S.V.P.’s are requested, but not required, to help plan for the number of attendees and translation needs. For more information or to R.S.V.P., please email or call Lucinda Williams, City Clerk at (714) 738-6355.”

Ron Thomas speaks to a reporter on the most recent anniversary of is son Kelly's death at the hands of Fullerton Police Officers.

Ron Thomas speaks to a reporter on the most recent anniversary of his son Kelly’s death at the hands of Fullerton Police Officers.

An October 15 article appearing on the website Voice of OC reports that the City Council of Westminster recently voted to “indemnify three former police chiefs and current chief Kevin Baker for $2.1 million in punitive damages leveled against them as part of 2011 federal case against the city”. The suit in question resulted in Westminster paying both general and punitive damages to a group of officers who alleged racial discrimination against them in job assignments. After paying the general damages, the Westminster City Council took the extra step of unanimously voting to pay the costs of the punitive damages, evidently levied on the current and former police chiefs.

The Voice of OC’s Thy Vo and commenters below the story noted that, by indemnifying the police chiefs, the council undercut the purpose of punitive damages, meant to “discourage misconduct.”

This action by the Westminster City Council calls to mind the ongoing civil suit bought by Ron Thomas against the city of Fullerton over the fatal beating of his son Kelly at the hands of the Fullerton Police Department. The suit names not only the city of Fullerton, but the officers involved in the arrest/beating, and former police chiefs Michael Sellers, in office at the time of the death, and his immediate predecessor Pat McKinley, later elected to the Fullerton City Council. Michael Sellers later retired from the position, citing medical issues.

Fullerton settled with Cathy Thomas, mother of the victim, for $ 1 million a year after her son’s death. Should Ron Thomas prevail in court, will the city of Fullerton vote to pick up the tab for any damages awarded to him from the three named officers, the two former officers, and the two former police chiefs? Two of the officers, later fired by the police department, were famously (infamously?) acquitted in criminal cases against them over the death, but the threshold for victory in a civil case is lower. If a jury finds misconduct on the part of the police officers, and agrees that then-Chief Sellers and former Chief Pat McKinley shared the blame for it, they might assign a considerable judgement against them to discourage such behavior in the future, but will it be effective?

UC Irvine’s School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a renowned legal figure in the United States, noted in a recent OC Register article that, “If the plaintiff wins, it will send a message of wrongful police behavior.”

But will that message resonate with the Fulleton City Council or the Fullerton Police Department if the council opts to indemnify Pat McKinley, Michael Sellers, or any of the current or fired officers named in the suit? Indemnifying police officers and officials financially in such a case also indemnifies them informally against any accountability they might otherwise face in their professional actions. They are free to do as they choose with the power they hold, while leaving the taxpayers holding the bag.


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