Fatal California Police Beating of Homeless Man Under Investigation by FBI

Officials say officers approached the man who tried to run from them and called for backup when he resisted as the scene escalated while witnesses watched.

Initially, police reported that two officers had suffered broken bones but later retracted the statement. Police are releasing few details about either the incident or the follow-up.

"I'm asking people, as hard as it is, to be patient and wait until the investigation is completed," Goodrich said.

Fullerton Mayor F. Richard Jones and other city officials are urging the public to avoid a rush to judgment.

"It's been nothing but spin and people screaming. It's almost like a lynch mob.... It's been fostered by people who don't know all the facts," he said.

But other officials said the case cries out for greater scrutiny.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, whose district includes Fullerton, called the federal Department of Justice's civil rights division July 28 because he was concerned that witnesses were apprehensive about coming forward to talk to local authorities. He was told that the FBI had opened an investigation.

Nelson said that the incident makes him wonder about the culture of the Police Department. "How did we have someone on the force that thought this was in any way, shape or form going to end in anything but disaster?" he said.

Thomas' family, led by his father, Ron, a former Orange County sheriff's deputy, have launched a crusade against the city in search of answers. They've posted fliers near the bus station, asking witnesses to contact them, and have called on officials to put all of the officers involved behind bars.

Ron Thomas said an attorney representing the city had offered him a settlement of $900,000, although the family has not filed a suit. A city spokeswoman and the attorney, Bruce Praet, declined to comment.

Court records show that Thomas had racked up a number of criminal convictions over the years, most for petty offenses. In 1995, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

But Cathy Thomas described her son as a bright, loving boy who opened doors for his mother and wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up so he could buy her a house. But after the onset of schizophrenia in his early 20s, he struggled, going on and off medication and on and off the streets, she said.

Thomas would periodically show up at his mother's home in Placentia but wouldn't say where he had been staying. She believed her son had been in Fullerton for five or six months.

"The police officers who patrol there would have known him. They knew Kelly, they knew he had mental problems, and yet they did this to him," she said.

His parents and people who knew Thomas from Fullerton said he was still a gentle person. He lived a lot in the past, his mother said, often speaking about friends and incidents from his school days.

"He didn't deserve this," she said. "He didn't deserve it at all."

A makeshift memorial has been set up at the bus station, where sunflowers, heart-shaped balloons and signs surrounded a lamppost. Well-wishers, some of whom had never met Kelly, stop by to light candles and leave offerings for the man who died nearly a month ago.

"He was harmless," said Amanda Hendrie, 22, who remembered that Thomas used to visit the Target store where she works. "You could tell that something was wrong, but it wasn't a violent sort of disturbance."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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