Kelly Thomas' father 'totally disgusted' by Kern County beating

Kelly Thomas' father 'totally disgusted' by Kern County beating
"If there's no pressure, there's no result," Ron Thomas says of demanding changes and accountability from the police. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the family of a man who died after being beaten by Kern County sheriff's deputies appeared before a crowd of reporters, Kelly Thomas' father watched video footage from afar.

Ron Thomas said he understood exactly what they were going through: "It's like, my God. I know how you feel. I really do."


Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, died after being beaten by Fullerton police in 2011. David Sal Silva died last week after an encounter with Kern County sheriff's deputies, and authorities there are investigating the matter.

"I was just totally disgusted," Ron Thomas said of his reaction to the Kern County incident. "This totally disgusted me."

Silva's death -- like Kelly Thomas' -- has prompted allegations of excessive force from witnesses and attorneys. After authorities seized cellphone videos taken of the incident, a lawyer representing Silva's family said he was particularly worried.

"It makes it look like a cover-up," David Cohn told The Times, adding that he has not been able to see the footage. "What we're all concerned about is, 'Are these videos going to be altered? Are they going to be deleted?'"

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Monday that it was too early in the investigation to reach any conclusions about Silva's death. But he defended the decision to take custody of the phones as a way of preserving possible evidence. The sheriff said his office obtained a search warrant for the phones and asked the Bakersfield Police Department to analyze the videos to remove the appearance of any conflict.

Ron Thomas said he spoke to Cohn over the weekend and planned to talk to Silva's family Tuesday. He said he would offer to help in any way he can, including going with the family to talk to the Kern County sheriff.

He also had advice based on his own experience, recommending the family "immediately" get the investigation to the district attorney or state attorney general's office, reach out to potential witnesses, and ramp up public pressure.

"If there's no pressure, there's no result," Ron Thomas said. "They would not have done it in Fullerton -- look at all the changes in Fullerton. I was a thorn in the side constantly and made them do their job."

Kelly Thomas' death roiled the Orange County community, prompting protests, memorials and a recall election as the incident drew international attention.

Three former members of the Fullerton police now face criminal charges in the death, including one officer who is accused of second-degree murder. Police Chief Michael F. Sellers took a medical leave amid calls for his resignation. He eventually stepped down.

Three City Council members perceived as protecting the embattled Police Department were ousted in a recall, and at one point the City Council considered disbanding the department and handing over law-enforcement authority to the sheriff.

Ron Thomas said the Kern County incident brought up memories of his son's case.

"It's very tough," he said. "I just happen to be in a whirl right now -- if I slow down, I'll get choked up."

"We've got to stop this," he said later. "We the people have got to stop this."