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.”
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.