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Crime & Justice

Ron Thomas on accepting $4.9M to settle civil case: 'It's never been about money'

Ron Thomas is the father Kelly Thomas, who was beaten by police officers in Fullerton in 2011. Kelly died shortly after.
Ron Thomas is the father Kelly Thomas, who was beaten by police officers in Fullerton in 2011. Kelly died shortly after.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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The father of the mentally ill homeless man who died after being beaten by Fullerton police officers in 2011 said a multimillion dollar settlement "speaks volumes" about the city's guilt in his son's death.

Ron Thomas decided to settle the wrongful death suit he filed against Fullerton for $4.9 million. The decision was announced during the opening statements of the trial Monday.

Thomas had previously maintained he wanted to see the case through the end. On Tuesday, he told Take Two he decided to accept a settlement after jury selection suggested the case could go either way. 

"We didn't know where we would stand by the end of this," Thomas said. "And, again, I needed to show that the city was liable, to show that they were completely responsible for the death of my son."

Thomas' son, Kelly, was stopped by police officers in Fullerton after officers received a call about someone trying to break into cars in a parking lot in July 2011. When the 37-year-old Thomas tried to walk away, officers beat him with their batons. The altercation was recorded and widely spread over social media.  In the video, Thomas can be heard saying he can't breathe and calling out for his dad. Kelly Thomas died five days later.

Criminal charges were brought against two former Fullerton police officers for involuntary manslaughter and excessive force in 2011, but they were acquitted last year. Similar charges against a third former officer were dropped as well.

Ron Thomas pursued a civil trial suing five officers, former police chiefs and the city of Fullerton.

While the settlement reached doesn't require the city or the police admit fault or liability —the city's attorney said Monday that the city won't be admitting liability — Thomas said, "the dollar amount that they offered and I accepted speaks volumes. [...] It says that, 'you know, we know we're wrong here and we're going to pay this much'."

Thomas added he's not sure what he'll do with the money, though he suggested some might go to charities he works closely with that provide help for homeless people with mental illness. 

Still, Thomas said he was after the statement that a large settlement makes. 

"It puts everybody on notice," he said. "You're gonna be held liable for this stuff now."

Hear the full interview with Ron Thomas at the audio link above.

This story has been updated.

Timeline of the Kelly Thomas beating