Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Fullerton Police Dept.

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FULLERTON, Calif. (KTLA) -- A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Fullerton Police Department -- a department already under fire in connection with a homeless man's death -- in the wrongful 2010 arrest of a Baldwin Park man.

On Wednesday, the Police Department admitted to mistakenly arresting 35-year-old Veth Mam on suspicion of attacking a police officer in October.

Chief Michael Sellers -- who is currently on medical leave -- and Officers Kenton Hampton, Frank Nguyen, Jonathan Miller and Daniel Solorio were listed as defendants.

Shortly after the department acknowledged the mistake, Fullerton's acting chief, Kevin Hamilton ordered an internal investigation after reviewing cell phone video of Mam's arrest.

"Based upon reviews of the video, it is Hamilton's preliminary determination that we arrested the wrong guy that night, Sgt. Andrew Goodrich told the Los Angeles Times. "It was very chaotic scene that night."

Mam was videotaping a friend's arrest last year when an officer slapped the phone out of his hand. Another bystander picked up the phone and kept recording.

The video shows officers wrestling Mam to the ground and arresting him.

Mam, who was accused of attacking and choking an officer, was acquitted by a jury in July. He plans to file a wrongful arrest lawsuit.

Cell phone video has also come to play in the recent and controversial death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally-ill homeless man who was allegedly beaten by six Fullerton police officers.

Community members have blamed poor leadership in Thomas' death. Some are calling for the mayor and police chief to resign.

Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, met privately with Mayor F. Richard Jones Wednesday morning.

After the meeting, Thomas told reporters that Jones had indicated he was considering stepping down.

"He made it very clear to me that he was absolutely ready, as of last night, to resign," Thomas told KTLA.

"He can't take anymore of this... So we'll see what happens with that. He just didn't want to go out like this... I gave him my thoughts on how he could still do it honorably."

Mayor Jones released the following statement later in the day:

"Reports that I am considering resigning my position as Mayor of the City of Fullerton are erroneous. I am not resigning. There is much work left to be done in our great city." Witnesses say Kelly Thomas, 37, was kicked, beaten and shocked with a Taser several times on July 5 at the Fullerton Transportation Center. Thomas fit the description of someone who had broken into cars in a parking lot, officials said.

Thomas was hospitalized in "very critical condition" at UC Irvine Medical Center. He was taken off life support on July 10.

Ron Thomas calls his son's death "cold-blooded murder." He says that some of the blame lies with Mayor Jones, who is at the helm of the Fullerton City Council, which oversees the police department.

During a loud and sometimes contentious city council meeting Tuesday night, some people fired harsh words at the panel, and openly criticized the mayor for what they consider foolish and insensitive comments about the case.

Jones has said that, as a doctor, he had seen Vietnam veterans with injuries worse than those Kelly Thomas sustained, and they survived.

"Mister Mayor, I came here tonight to offer you an olive branch, but the first thing you did was open your mouth and I want to grab a baseball bat, I swear to God," Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, said, prompting cheers amongst the crowd.

"Why are you still here? We don't even want you in Fullerton, man," another citizen told the mayor.

At times, Jones and council members got up and left the meeting.

The city council ultimately voted 4-1 to hire a police watchdog to investigate the circumstances surrounding Thomas' death.

Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, will conduct the review, at a cost of upwards of $230 an hour.

Gennaco said he would immediately begin his investigation into the entire department -- not just Thomas' death -- to see if there's any corruption.

At least two videos have surfaced with witnesses reacting to the events.

One video was recorded on an OCTA bus just minutes after the violent confrontation occurred between Thomas and the officers.

"The cops are kicking this poor guy over there. All these cops," one female passenger says, adding that she saw the "whole thing."

The passenger, visibly shaken, tells the bus driver that the officers were pulling Thomas' hair and "kicking the (expletive) out of him."

"He's all full of blood," she says, sounding shaken. "He's almost halfway dead," she adds.

"They killed him," a male passenger later tells the driver.

The man says Thomas was "just chillin'" when officers approached him and he ran away.

He says officers captured Thomas and proceeded to "pound his face against the curb."

After using a Taser on Thomas six times, the witness says, officers "still beat him up."

"Then all the cops came and they hog tied him," he says, adding that Thomas was pleading for help.

Another video, released by Thomas' family, shows Thomas on the ground with officers on top of him as witnesses watch in disbelief.

Witnesses can be heard complaining about police using a Taser on the man "five times."

"That's enough," one woman is heard saying. Another witness is heard calling the officers "ruthless."

An attorney for the six officers has refuted the witness accounts.

Michael D. Schwartz says Thomas was combative with officers. He also maintains that the officers did not use a flashlight as a weapon against Thomas, nor did they tase him excessively.

Ron Thomas says his son was homeless by choice and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"When (police) rolled up, he was by a vehicle. They wanted to search his backpack, and he turned on them," Ron Thomas told the OC Register.

Ron Thomas said he believes officers slammed his son's head to the ground, using "excessive force."

FullertonsFuture.org has published a very graphic photograph showing a battered and bloodied Kelly Thomas in the hospital.

Police Chief Michael Sellers went on medical leave following the fallout from Thomas' death. He will continue to get his full salary -- about $228,576 with benefits -- and cannot be fired.

An attorney for Thomas' parents has filed a claim with the city as a precursor to a civil lawsuit.

The claim alleges that the officers, "severely beat decedent Kelly Thomas with their fists and with objects and subjected decedent Kelly Thomas to excessive applications of Taser electricity."

The claim also says Kelly was "subdued and restrained and represented no threat of harm to the Fullerton police officers," and that the officers' actions caused Thomas' death.

KTLA spoke to the Thomas' attorney, Garo Mardirossian, about the July 5 incident.

"They had subdued Kelly. Kelly was down and out," Mardirossian said.

"They continued to tase him. They continued to beat him. They continued to pummel his head. The kept kneeing him, punching him [and] striking him with the butt of a taser."

"We want to make sure that the people of Fullerton feel safe, that the officers that they paid to protect them and to serve them do just that," Mardirossian said.

The department says the six officers involved in the deadly beating have put on administrative leave with pay with pay for "their safety and the safety of the public."

The FBI has joined the investigation.

 

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