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D.A. sees no signs of 'intentional killing' by Fullerton police

Prosecutors are still probing whether officers used excessive force against a schizophrenic homeless man. The man's father says he suffered brain injuries from blunt force trauma and lack of oxygen.

August 09, 2011|By Richard Winton and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas on Monday said that he's seen no evidence so far suggesting Fullerton police officers intentionally tried to kill homeless man Kelly Thomas, but that his office is still trying to determine whether the officers used excessive force in his death.

Rackauckas, speaking about it publicly for the first time, said the investigation is in its early stages and his office has yet to get a cause-of-death determination from the Orange County coroner's office.

"As far as intentional killing ... I have not seen any evidence of that in this case," Rackauckas said.

Photos: Death of homeless man

Thomas, 37, died several days after he was confronted by six Fullerton officers at the local bus depot last month. As they tried to search the schizophrenic homeless man, a violent altercation ensued that left him in a coma. Witnesses have described officers repeatedly striking him and shocking him with a stun gun.

Rackauckas' comments come as Thomas' father revealed new details about his son's injuries. Ron Thomas said MRI and X-ray results from the hospital that treated his son show he had two forms of severe brain injury: one caused by a lack of oxygen and the other by blunt force trauma. Bones in his face had also been broken, said the father, who previously released a photo of Thomas' bloody, swollen, barely recognizable face.

Ron Thomas has labeled his son's death a murder and said he wants the six officers involved to go to prison.

The D.A. said he did not want to speculate on possible criminal charges — whether they be manslaughter or excessive force — until "all the evidence is in."

Rackauckas said he has made the investigation a priority for his prosecutors and investigators, and is devoting extensive resources to the case. "I am reviewing everything that is being done," he said.

The top prosecutor said he had seen a security video of the incident. Prosecutors and police have refused to make the video public, and Rackauckas said he cannot discuss its content.

"It is a tragedy this happened," he said when asked to characterize the video's images. "My heart goes out to Mr. Thomas and [his] family members."

He said his office is expediting the case by assigning extra investigators, but that it takes time to transcribe dozens of interviews and gather relevant documents.

The incident, which prompted large protests at the bus depot in the usually conservative community, is also under investigation by the FBI.

Two Fullerton council members have called for the police chief to resign, and rallies have drawn hundreds of protesters.

Six officers have been placed on leave.

The Police Department has released few details about what happened that night, other than to say that Thomas was stopped by officers investigating a report of an attempted car burglary and became combative.

On Monday, Fullerton's city manager proposed bringing the head of the Los Angeles County sheriff's watchdog body to examine the July 5 incident and related policies and procedures, according to sources.

Michael Gennaco, head of L.A. County's Office of Independent Review, has been brought in before to examine the Orange County jails after the death of an inmate.

Photos: Death of homeless man

richard.winton@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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