Archives for category: Kelly Thomas

Dan-Hughes-at-Podium

Chief Dan Hughes, blocking oversight of our department, with the consent of a majority of our own city council.

Fullerton’s latest Chief of Police Dan Hughes officially left his post on Thursday afternoon, sent off in a hail of glory by officers of the force and other well-wishers gathered in front of the police station. He will become Vice President of Security for the Disney Resort, a job well suited to a man paid to keep the public in the dark about the activities of his department.*

Unabashedly lauded by admirers, one of whom went to the extreme of posting professional signs around town urging his permanent hiring by the council four years ago, Chief Hughes nonetheless left many unhappy with his adamant refusal to accept reasonable public oversight of his department in the aftermath of the horrific beating of homeless man Kelly Thomas by officers of the force. His decision to retain three of the six officers involved did not seem consistent with perceived efforts to bring greater accountability to the troubled department.

Supporters of Dan Hughes like to point out that he addressed most of the recommendations made in the report commissioned by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), who are also now under contract with the city to periodically review the FPD’s reports. However, Dan Hughes and the Fullerton City Council never really addressed the final, and arguably most important, recommendation by the OIR, to establish credible independent oversight of the department. Instead of an appointed Civilian Police Commission to oversee our own police department, we got a “Chief’s Advisory Council,” hand-picked by Chief Hughes himself. No notices, agendas, or minutes of their meetings have ever been made available to the public. Reports of the meetings only come in the form of cheerleading statements made by its members during the public comment periods of city council meetings. Hardly the sort of oversight that would have reviewed the case of a Fullerton Police Detective accused of threatening a crime victim and coercing sex from her that resulted in a $ 550,000.00 out of court settlement on the Chief’s watch.

The lack of formal Police Commission with the critical power to conduct its own investigations can be sharply felt now in the aftermath of City Manager Joe Felz’s car accident last week that allowed him to walk away after a phone call was placed to the outgoing Chief Dan Hughes. The City Council will meet in closed session on Tuesday, November 15, to discuss the situation as a personnel matter pertaining to Mr. Felz, but we have no way at all of knowing what happened in the early morning hours of November 9. The city’s contract with OIR does not cover such investigations, leaving no other independent body to provide a report where an otherwise inherent conflict of interest exists between the City Manager’s office and the appointment of an interim Police Chief to temporarily replace Dan Hughes. (FPD Captain John Siko has been named  to the position).

The lack of transparency is in keeping with the decision by Chief Hughes to sidestep the improved communication with the pubic recommended by the Gennaco Report. Instead, we were treated to occasional open houses at police headquarters and a hack public relations firm paid with our tax dollars to regurgitate positive stories about the FPD back to us in a complicit OC Register and on a website called Behind the Badge.

The election of a new member to the Fullerton City Council prior to the hiring of a permanent Chief of Police offers a fortuitous opportunity to add actual police oversight, to be discussed in a future story.

 

*His hiring by Curt Pringle uber-client Disney, while serving under one of Pringle & Associates’ Vice Presidents, Fullerton Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, might give one pause to reflect.

UPDATE: The Rag has updated the video links on this post to separate them individually because some readers experienced problems playing all five videos as a playlist.

On Wednesday, November 25, the Fullerton City Council met at 8:00 a.m. for a Special Meeting to announce a settlement in the civil lawsuit brought by Ron Thomas, father of schizophrenic Kelly Thomas, beaten into brain death by members of the Fullerton Police Department four and half years ago. The council had already met in a closed session meeting two days earlier on Monday, November 23 to decide whether or not to settle the case, scheduled to begin that very morning in a Santa Ana courtroom. Council members Jan Flory, Doug Chaffee, and Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Fitzgerald voted in favor of the settlement, while Mayor Greg Sebourn and Council member Bruce Whitaker voted against it.

Although video of the November 23 meeting is available on the city’s website, along with other archived videos of past meetings, no such video can be found there of the Nov. 25 meeting. CORRECTION: The November 23 meeting was not recorded either, even though several members of the public offered comments prior to the council retreating into Closed Session. When pressed for an answer about the video’s absence by Parks and Recreation Commissioner Barry Levinson during public comments at the regularly scheduled December 1 City Council meeting, City Clerk Lucinda Williams responded that the city’s contract only covered regular meetings, and that a special call needed to have been made to arrange for the video recording of special meetings, and that that call had not been made ahead of the November 25 meeting.

The timing of the November 25 meeting was already suspect. Rather than wait until the regularly scheduled December 1 evening meeting, which would be both video recorded and broadcast live, to announce the expensive and embarrassing settlement, a Special Meeting was quickly scheduled early in the morning on a weekday, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday break. There is no logical reason for not video recording the November 25 session, which was a pubic announcement. Although a complete recording of that meeting is not known to exist, the Fullerton Rag does have five videos shot from the audience to preserve parts of the proceedings. Below are the announcement of the settlement by City Attorney Richard Jones, along with explanations by four council members of their respective support or opposition to the decision (Council member Jan Flory was not present for the November 25 meeting). Click the links below to hear remarks by each present member of the Fullerton City Council.

First, City Attorney Richard Jones reads the settlement text..

Mayor Greg Sebourn…

Council member Bruce Whitaker..

Council member Doug Chaffee…

And the customarily perfunctory remarks by Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Fitzgerald…

 

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’

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/thomas-597391-case-police.html

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.

RonThomasLawsuitAgenda

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