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Homeless man's mother settles with Fullerton over his death

Cathy Thomas will receive $1 million from the city. Her son Kelly died after a violent confrontation with six police officers. The agreement does not resolve a claim filed by the victim's father, Ron.

May 16, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Cathy Thomas, center, is shown with Fullerton Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, left, and Fullerton resident Erin Lewis last year.
Cathy Thomas, center, is shown with Fullerton Councilwoman Sharon Quirk-Silva,… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

The mother of a mentally ill homeless man who died after he was beaten by Fullerton police has reached a settlement with the city that will pay her $1 million, officials announced Tuesday evening.

The agreement unanimously approved by the Fullerton City Council resolves Cathy Thomas' legal claims against the city involving the death of Kelly Thomas, 37. He died July 10, five days after his violent confrontation with Fullerton Police Department officers.

Thomas reached the settlement after voluntary mediation with her attorney, city officials said.

"Resolution of Ms. Thomas' claim at this time allows her to begin the healing process and avoid what would likely be protracted, expensive and difficult civil litigation," Thomas and the city said in a joint statement.

The brutal confrontation, which was captured on surveillance video paired with audio from devices worn by the officers, has rocked the north Orange County city. Thomas' death became a rallying point that sparked a mass protest movement and led to the departure of a police chief and a planned recall election next month against three council members.

The settlement does not resolve a claim filed by Thomas' father, Ron Thomas, for damages. Ron and Cathy Thomas are divorced.

Ron Thomas has pushed strongly to have the six officers involved in the incident fired and tried on criminal charges.

An Orange County Superior Court judge found last week that there was enough evidence for two of those officers to stand trial. Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, will be tried on charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, will face trial on involuntary manslaughter and excessive force charges.

The ruling, which followed an emotionally charged hearing, means that Ramos could be the first police officer in modern Orange County history to be tried for murder for on-duty actions.

The video of the confrontation between Kelly Thomas and the officers was shown for the first time during the three-day preliminary hearing. The footage shows Thomas on the ground, screaming, as officers pile on top of him and hit him with fists, a baton and finally the butt of a stun gun.

Before the beating, the video showed Ramos growing visibly frustrated as a shirtless Thomas, sitting on a curb while detained by the officers investigating reports of someone trying to break into cars at the downtown transit center, failed to follow commands to put his legs out in front of him and his hands on his knees.

At one point, Ramos put on a pair of gloves and told Thomas, "See these fists? They're getting ready to f— you up, if you don't f— start listening."

Brian Gurwitz, the attorney for Cathy Thomas, said late Tuesday that his client hopes the settlement will help "continue the healing process that she and the citizens of this county are going through, including the many honorable members of Orange County's law enforcement community."

But, he added, "to lose a son at the hands of rogue police officers is an indescribable horror. There is nothing this council could ever do to compensate her for the loss she's suffered."

richard.winton@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.

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