Video: Outrage at death of homeless man

  1. Transcript of: Outrage at death of homeless man

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: This next story started out with a video posted on YouTube . It didn't show much, but we later learned it showed the story of how a homeless man apparently died at the hands of police in Fullerton , California . And the incident now has an entire community in an uproar. The report tonight from NBC 's George Lewis .

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Kelly Thomas was a 37-year-old homeless drifter who liked to hang out around the main bus station . After being beaten by police last month, he died.

    Unidentified Man #1: Citizens are being beat to death.

    Unidentified Woman #1: It was murder.

    LEWIS: At a contentious city council meeting last night, people called for the police involved in the incident to be criminally charged.

    Unidentified Man #2: The game's over.

    LEWIS: They're riled up over videos of the incident posted on YouTube . On a bus security camera , witnesses can be heard commenting on the six officers hitting Thomas .

    Unidentified Woman #2: They're pulling his hair, kicking

    the......out of him.

    LEWIS: This one shot by a witness is indistinct, but Thomas can be heard calling out for his father.

    Mr. RON THOMAS (Kelly Thomas' Father): He's screaming, begging for his life, telling the officers, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. God, help me, please.' And then, of course, the end of it, last thing in his life were, 'Dad, Dad.'

    LEWIS: Kelly Thomas ' father, Ron , a former Los Angeles county sheriff 's deputy, has been an active participant in all the protests over his son's death. This security camera mounted near the bus station could provide the best view of what happened between Kelly Thomas and police. It has a clear perspective of the area where the incident took place. But because the incident is under investigation, neither the district attorney nor the FBI will release the video. The mayor is urging everyone in Fullerton to calm down.

    Mayor RICHARD JONES (Fullerton Mayor): It's almost gotten to a lynch type of mob, and you can't do that.

    LEWIS: The six officers have been placed on administrative leave. A lawyer hired by them says that Thomas was resisting, and says police were not using excessive force, as the sorrow continues and the anger builds here. George Lewis , NBC News, Fullerton , California.

Image: Crowd applauds father of beating victim
Leonard Ortiz  /  The Orange County Register via AP
A standing-room-only crowd applauds Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, after he spoke Tuesday night before the Fullerton City Council. staff and news service reports
updated 8/3/2011 5:09:04 PM ET 2011-08-03T21:09:04

Six police officers have been placed on leave after a surveillance video surfaced of witnesses expressing horror moments after seeing a homeless man beaten to death, allegedly by the officers.

Kelly Thomas, 37, died five days after an altercation with Fullerton, Calif., officers at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

His father, Ron Thomas, made an emotional appearance at a Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday evening along with more than 200 community members who demanded answers, NBC Los Angeles reported.

When speaking to the City Council, Thomas referred to audio of the alleged altercation that was posted online on You Tube, NBC Los Angeles said.

"Listen to my son beg those officers, 'Please, please, please God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,'" said Thomas. "And, then, the last words of his life — 'Dad, dad.' I want you to hear that for the rest of your life like I will."

Thomas said his son had been a normal teen who aspired to be a wildland firefighter until he began to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia in his early 20s.

The police officers involved in the altercation were placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday and given desk duty in a decision made after new surveillance video surfaced, NBC Los Angeles reported. The new video shows witnesses telling a bus driver that the officers had used a stun gun and beaten the man.

In the video taken aboard an Orange County Transportation Authority bus, passengers say officers pounded Kelly Thomas' face and hog-tied him as he cried out for his father.

The video, first made public on Monday, was obtained through a public records request by the blog Friends for Fullerton's Future.

Officers confronted Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, on July 5 while investigating reports of a man burglarizing cars near the Fullerton Transportation Center.

An emotional public outcry
Angry members of the public expressed their frustration over Thomas' death at the three hour-plus meeting and demanded answers from city officials.

As the meeting started, City Attorney Richard Jones said the City Council and not the police chief will make the final decision regarding any further disciplinary action taken against the involved officers, the Orange County Register reported.

Image: Ron Thomas
Leonard Ortiz  /  The Orange County Register via AP
Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, 37, asks the Fullerton City Council on Tuesday night to answer questions about the death of his son.

At the standing room only meeting, more than 70 people spoke in front of the council, while another 50 people who couldn't get into the meeting watched the proceedings from a TV in the lobby of the City Hall. Some of the speakers called for the resignation of Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers, according to the Register.

On the bus surveillance video, passengers boarding a bus that arrived minutes after the confrontation tell the driver what they saw.

A woman who appears upset tells the driver: "The cops are kicking this poor guy over there. ... He's almost halfway dead."

A male witness says the man, later identified as Thomas, was sitting on a bench when he was approached by two officers and ran from them. The man says police used a stun gun on Thomas six times.

Incident under investigation
Police have said Thomas ran away as officers tried to search his backpack, triggering an altercation that eventually involved six officers whose names have not been released. One officer was initially placed on paid administrative leave. Sellers decided to do the same for the other five officers on Tuesday, Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, a department spokesman, told the Associated Press.

He said he didn't know what prompted the chief's decision.

Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life support on July 10. On Wednesday, a small group of protesters marched outside the police station with posters depicting Thomas' bloodied and swollen face after the altercation.

Goodrich said the investigation has been turned over to the Orange County district attorney's office and the officers will remain on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

"This is what we've called for from the moment this occurred on July 5," Goodrich said. "We're waiting for the investigation to be completed as much as anybody else is."

Goodrich declined to comment on the videotape and declined to say if the city had its own surveillance tape showing the incident.

District attorney investigators have interviewed more than 80 witnesses and are awaiting the results of toxicology tests before deciding whether to file criminal charges, said Susan Schroeder, the agency's chief of staff.

"It's very important that if there is a trial, that the witnesses can testify what they saw as a witness, not what they saw on television or in the media," said Schroeder, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

An autopsy conducted last month was inconclusive about the cause of death. Further tests are pending.

The FBI has also launched an investigation into whether officers violated Thomas' civil rights, said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report


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