Kelly Thomas verdict: Family wants officers to face federal charges

Two former Fullerton police officers were found not guilty Monday in the beating death of Kelly Thomas and charges against a third officer will be dropped.

Family and supporters of the homeless schizophrenic man, who died after a violent 2011 altercation with police, are now hoping federal authorities will step in.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father and a former sheriff’s deputy, said he hoped that the U.S. Justice Department would file federal charges against the officers. The FBI had been investigating and monitoring the case.

“I’ve never seen something so bad happen to a human being, and have it done by on-duty police officers,” Thomas said. “And they can walk away scot-free.”

Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said the agency opened a civil rights investigation into the case in 2011. Now that the state court trial has concluded, she said, “investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level.”


The verdict came after nearly three weeks of testimony from 25 witnesses in an often-packed Santa Ana courtroom. At the heart of the trial was the 33-minute surveillance video, synced with audio from recorders worn by officers.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who prosecuted the case himself, said the trial was fair.

“I would do the same thing again,” he said. “I think it’s a matter that the jury had to see.”

After the jury returned the not guilty verdict -- after about eight hours of deliberation -- Rackauckas said he would not continue to pursue a case against Officer Joseph Wolfe, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Monday night, dozens of people gathered at the Fullerton transit depot not far from where Kelly Thomas was beaten by police in the summer of 2011.

More protests and vigils were expected Tuesday and over the weekend.

Curtis Gamble, 53, who is homeless, said many of his friends witnessed the beating.

“They didn’t get a chance to testify,” Gamble said.

He recalled sleeping on benches at the station and waking to see Thomas sifting through trash cans at the site.

Some of the approximately 100 people who gathered at the site, known as “Kelly’s corner,” were crying. Others waved signs that said “No More Killer Cops” and “Change 4 Justice.”

Near a memorial lighted by candles, people signed a guest book. Among those in the crowd was Thomas’ mother, Cathy.

“To know all of these people are out here still supporting us means a lot,” she said, her eyes teary. “It seems like everybody we talk to was in agreement: It was murder.”