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Ron Thomas, a man with a mission

Ron Thomas talks with Larry Mantle about seeking justice for his son Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton in 2011.
Ron Thomas talks with Larry Mantle about seeking justice for his son Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton in 2011.
Ron Thomas talks with Larry Mantle about seeking justice for his son Kelly Thomas, who was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton in 2011.
Ron Thomas speaks to the media after Tuesday's preliminary hearing in Santa Ana.
Joshua Sudock, Orange County Register, pool photo

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Nearly a year has passed since a severe police beating resulted in the death of a mentally ill man in Fullerton. Kelly Thomas was a 37-year-old homeless man with a history of schizophrenia when he was detained by police at a Fullerton bus depot, suspected of vandalizing cars.

A video shows six police officers piling onto the thin man as he calls for his father amid the sounds of taser fire. Not long after he was rushed, comatose, to a hospital. He died five days later, never having regained consciousness. Two police officers will soon go on trial for his death.

Throughout the tumultuous ten months since Thomas’ death, one thing has remained a constant: his father Ron Thomas’ unwavering fight to find justice for his son. It was Ron Thomas who released pictures of Kelly’s brutalized face to the media, sparking international attention. And it has been Ron Thomas who has continued to call for the arrests and prosecutions of the remaining four officers involved in the beating of his son.

Ron Thomas is a former sheriff’s deputy himself and he comes from a family of law enforcement officers. He told the L.A. Times he’s had trouble understanding that the police could have been involved in his Kelly Thomas’ death. It’s his tireless push for answers that has kept the name and face of Kelly Thomas in our collective conscious.

Ron Thomas joins Larry in-studio to discuss his feelings about the pre-trial hearing of the two officers charged with his son’s death, his thoughts on policing the mentally ill and how he and his family are holding up under the enormous strain of the last several months.

On Officer Joe Wolfe being possibly pressed for charges:
"[District Attorney Tony] Rackauckas told me that he is absolutely still looking at Wolfe, so he's not out of the picture by any means."

"[Wolfe] took the first strikes at Kelly, and then he delivered the two big elbows."

On whether it was hard for Ron Thomas to go against law enforcement after his extensive history with them. (3rd generation police officer, six years with Orange County Police Department):
"I don't care who may have done this. It certainly shocked me that they did it, but to go after them was no problem at all. These guys are not what I would consider police officers – what many of us would consider a police officer. They're murderers with badges, and that's how I'm going at them."

On what led to Kelly Thomas' beating:
"Kelly was clearly what's in what's called 'contempt of cop.' In other words, he didn't follow [Officer Manuel] Ramos' program to the letter. Well, with his schizophrenic mind, he couldn't, and appeared defiant to Ramos, defiant to Wolfe, and so they beat him."

On reports that Ramos, Cpl. Jay Cicinelli and Wolfe received letters terminating their employment:
"What I have is that – and this was put out by the city attorney even – the letters have been sent out ... They haven't been fired, they haven't been terminated, but these are letters of intent. And they have 30 days to appeal, and it goes to a Scully hearing, so there're a lot of things that can happen down the line still. But this is still progress. It's very, very positive progress."

"I've been in touch with [acting Chief Captain Dan Hughes]. By law he cannot mention officers' names and give their actual dispositions. I've have been of course insisting that Wolfe not only be terminated from the department, but also that Rackauckas charge him."

On whether other officers should be charged:
"One in particular, and that's Sergeant Craig, and he's next on my list. I'm going after Wolfe really hard, and then Craig is my next one."

On how Ron Thomas' views of Fullerton have changed, public support:
"I have a very poor liking for the way that the city has handled this, the way that they run their city, the way that the police department has handled this and still continues to handle it. They're trying to improve on all aspects. That's only because I've been there and Kelly's Army has been there, to force them to do this. The people are mad, and the people are going to take the city back."

"Especially in the beginning, it was extremely overwhelming. I've never done anything like this in my life, and I get correspondence from all over the world, whether it's through a Facebook page, or actual letters and cards. Documentary crews from several different countries have come down here just to do documentaries on Kelly and what Kellys' Army is doing. It's a true, tragic story, that our police officers can beat somebody so severely to where they die, and the whole time he's begging for his life and for forgiveness."

On Ron Thomas emotional coping:
"The last city council meeting, I was so emotional I could barely start speaking ... We had just come off of a preliminary hearing where the city video was played and all its audio again and again and again, so I sat through three days of that."

"My son and I had a very close relationship, certainly evident by him calling out for me the way he did, to save him."

"Anger doesn't play a part in what I'm doing. I push the anger aside. I'm angry at them for the asinine things they say, and the former Mayor, Dick Jones, his insensitivity at the time. Just so many of these people; unwilling to cooperate at all. It's the worst thing that's ever happened in Fullerton's history, and Orange County."

"They have a city attorney that's telling them to be completely quiet. Yeah, that's his job, I understand that. But they need to cooperate with me. Without cooperation, without talking with me, I have no other choice than to go at them with full speed."

"I don't care if Kelly was shooting at them. What a horrible, tragic thing that has happened here. Just show some compassion for human life."

On the importance of Ron Thomas actively getting publicity for Kelly's death:
"[The case] would have been swept right under the carpet, nobody would have even cared at all. I think channel 7, Eileen Frere, at time she was the only one interested in the story, and I didn't know what to do. When she came back on the 10th, when Kelly was pronounced dead, she was still the only one. A couple hours I was with Kelly, someone told me to take pictures, so I did. ... I showed her the picture, and she goes, 'Oh my god, that's horrid. We can't show these.'"

"On the internet, I found this guy running up and down this small little street taking pictures, and video for YouTube, and taking video of the city camera and talking about it. I thought, 'Who is this guy, I've got to find him, I've got to meet him.' I did and it was Tony Bushala, he runs the blog, Friends for Fullerton. I showed it to him, and he got sick to his stomach, and he goes 'Ron, we got to get this out.' He talked to me about the blog, and I knew nothing about the blog, and he guaranteed I'd get it out there. I had to get it out there. People had to understand what these people did to my son."

On Kelly's schizophrenia:
"I did everything I could, and unfortunately with the economy – I had to work 150 miles out of town for two years – he was here, more under his mother's control, supervision. I had him in a board and care, she took him out of there to share an apartment, and it just didn't go right for her. I always made him take his meds, his board and care always made him take his meds, but with his mother, he didn't take them."

"He was great [when he was on his meds]. And that was also a problem, because when he was great, like any of us, he wanted to get on with his life. ... He held some jobs even, but then he wanted to get on with his life, and so he did. He would just walk. No medications, I'd find him in a park or something, I'd have to get him back into treatment. It was a huge, vicious cycle."


Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas

How does Kelly Thomas' death change Fullerton? Answer here.