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Black man who died in struggle with Pasadena police was kicked in the head, struck with baton, family's lawyer says

Black man who died in struggle with Pasadena police was kicked in the head, struck with baton, family's lawyer says
Patricia Thomas, 11, left, and Raquel Thomas, 9, pay their respects at a makeshift memorial for their father, Reginald Thomas, who died after being Tasered by Pasadena police. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Pasadena police officers used excessive force when they Tasered a black man with a history of mental illness and then allegedly kicked him in the head and hit him with a baton before he died at a northwest Pasadena apartment complex, an attorney for the man's family said Monday.

Reginald Thomas Jr., 35, a father of eight, died early Friday morning after six Pasadena police officers confronted him inside an apartment in the 200 block of E. Orange Grove Boulevard. According to police, Thomas was armed with a knife and fire extinguisher and was uncooperative when ordered to drop the items. Officers used a Taser on Thomas, and then once he was on the ground, forcibly restrained him with handcuffs and leg restraints.

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In the wake of Thomas's death, more than 500 people marched Friday night through the heart of Pasadena to complain about the use of what they perceive as excessive force on a man the family says struggled with a mental disorder.

"Pasadena police say they used less lethal force. But if use of less lethal force is excessive, it can still be lethal force," said Caree Harper, an attorney who is representing Thomas' family. "Witnesses saw him kicked in the head. He was hit with some kind of baton, a black object."

She said the sheer weight and mass of the six officers jumping on him might have led to his death. She said that a kick to the head is considered in law enforcement to be a use of deadly force because of the danger to the brain.

Harper said that, according to witnesses, Thomas dropped the knife after the stun gun darts hit him the first time. She said the department knew of his struggles with mental health and should have done more to de-escalate the situation.

Harper said she plans to file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family against the city, alleging use of excessive force. A spokesman for the city of Pasadena would not comment on the allegations and referred questions to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide unit, which is investigating Thomas' death.

Autopsy results are still pending and the L.A. County Coroner's office has yet to determine a cause of death.

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez last Friday said his officers exhibited restraint in not using deadly force and deploying a less lethal device: the Taser to tackle Thomas despite him having a knife.

Pasadena police received a call from a cell phone around 2 a.m. seeking help but could not locate the particular address, said Capt. Steve Katz. About 2:30 a.m., police received a second call from the cellphone with a report of a family disturbance.

A teenage male caller told a dispatcher Thomas had a knife and was holding it under his armpit, but had not threatened those in the apartment with it. When the operator asked if Thomas had any mental conditions, the caller didn't know but said that Thomas was on drugs.

When officers arrived they "saw him with a knife. He was at the door," Katz said. When the man refused to cooperate with police, officers fired their Tasers at him twice, Katz said.

"The man resisted, and they used physical force and restrained him," Katz said.

Grainy security footage showed the officers walking to the door, but the actual confrontation could not be clearly seen.

The Pasadena Fire Department received a call at 3 a.m. from police about a man not breathing, spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. When firefighters arrived, they determined "it was a fatality," she said.

Harper questioned why Thomas was not immediately transported by ambulance to the trauma center at Huntington Memorial Hospital, only a few minutes from where the deadly struggle occurred.

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"They left the body there for hours," Harper said. His wife…. had to step over his body, she said.

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