The controversial Kelly Thomas case prompted more outrage this week. After an Orange County jury found two former Fullerton police officers not guilty in the death of a schizophrenic homeless man, dozens of letter writers responded heatedly with their views on the verdict, the plight of the mentally ill and the role of police in our society.
One comment, in particular, provoked a nerve: "These peace officers were doing their jobs...they did what they were trained to do," said an attorney for ex-cop Manuel Ramos.
Among the viewpoints published by The Times in print and online this week:
– Sara Lessley, letters department
Along with others, Marianne Finch of Huntington Beach was struck by a few words:
"There is a statement in the article that just makes my blood run cold: 'They did what they were trained to do.'
If that is really what they are trained to do, then that makes me very afraid."
In West Hollywood, Jan St. Amant asks:
"I wonder if the Fullerton police have any family members who are mentally ill. I wonder if they have any family members who are homeless. I wonder how they'd feel seeing a family member beaten to death like Kelly Thomas. I wonder."
Paul Turley, of Los Angeles, wasn't alone in defending the police:
"The Kelly Thomas incident and his death was a tragedy…
…when the commands of a police officer are ignored or rejected, the officers are required and expected to act. When a cop says 'drop it,' one must drop it. To deny those basic rules is to insist on anarchy …What do the citizens of Fullerton, and other cities, want their police officers to do under those circumstances? Walk away? Talk nice? Leave the suspect alone? …
Cops doing their job is never the story…. Cops should be honored for doing the job they do and they should be rewarded for doing things that place them in danger, even in danger of losing their lives, when they do their job properly."
Leah Sullivan in Pasadena sees it another way:
"There are many reasons why a person might not be able to respond rationally and reasonably to an officer's commands. The person may be suffering from severe dehydration or a diabetic condition; a service person experiencing post traumatic stress; a former football player with traumatic head injuries; a citizen with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder; or a person in the grips of a chemical dependency to legal or illegal substances.
There is law enforcement training available to optimize the outcome of these encounters. The main goal of this training is improved officer and public safety. "
Marcia Barnett of Laguna Beach expressed the hope shared by others:
"Use of police force to contain an individual: Yes, police officers must be trained to protect themselves and the community. However, there must be a way to do their job without beating or killing another human being."