Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Not Guilty By No Good Reason

Two former California police officers from Fullerton were found not guilty on all charges in the death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic man they beat into unconsciousness as he cried out for help on a summer night more than two years ago.

The Orange County jury's verdict came after just two days of deliberations, ending a case that generated nationwide debate after video of the clash at a busy bus depot ignited public outrage.

Thomas' family quietly sobbed as the verdict was read. His mother emerged from the courtroom with red-rimmed eyes. "They murdered my son and they got away with it," she said.

The case was the first in the county's history in which an officer faced murder charges for actions taken on duty. But jurors agreed with defense attorneys that the officers were trying to subdue an unruly suspect, not beat him to death.

Ron Thomas, the victim's father and a former deputy himself, said he hoped that the U.S. Justice Department would file federal charges against the officers.   "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."

Eyewitness accounts of the incident and family photos of Thomas' pummeled face created an immediate public furor at the time of the incident.  Orange County citizens crammed public meetings to reprimand or shout at city leaders. Eventually, officials' response to the incident led to the ouster of three City Council members and the retirement of Fullerton's chief of police.

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