SANTA ANA, California — The father of a schizophrenic homeless man who died after a brutal arrest said Monday that his mission of fighting police violence will continue despite a $4.9 million settlement of his lawsuit against the city of Fullerton.
"You see people across the nation getting shot in the back that are unarmed, you see more beatings still happening," Ron Thomas said at a news conference. "My advocacy will not stop. This needs to change."
The city did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the July 2011 death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas but the money offered speaks for itself, his father said.
"That says, that screams, we know we're liable," he said of city agencies and officials. "Collectively, they know they were guilty of murder."
The city reached a $1 million settlement with Thomas' mother, Cathy Thomas, about three years ago.
Kelly Thomas died after he was repeatedly struck in the face with the butt of a stun gun, breaking bones. Video and audio of the confrontation brought national scrutiny to Fullerton, an Orange County university town of about 140,000 residents southeast of Los Angeles.
Two Fullerton officers were cleared during a criminal trial last year. Former Officer Manuel Ramos was acquitted of second-degree murder, and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Both were also found not guilty of excessive use of force.
Prosecutors dropped charges against a third officer after the verdicts.
However, all three were fired.
Besides the city, the lawsuit named the three officers, two who remain with the department, former Police Chief Michael Sellers and another former chief and ex-City Council member, Patrick McKinley. All agreed to the settlement without acknowledging wrongdoing.
Thomas and his lawyers said Ramos would have been the first witness called in the civil case and unlike the criminal case, he would have had to testify about what happened.
However, appeals would have dragged on the case for years and most of the details of the arrest already have been made public through video and the release of police investigation documents, they said.
In an email, Cicinelli's attorney said his client had been looking forward to testifying that he acted in self-defense while Kelly Thomas was trying to "strip his weapon out of his hand."
"The evidence would have clearly shown that Jay Cicinelli's force did not cause or contribute to Mr. Thomas' death" and the ex-officer is trying to get his job back, attorney Tim Kral wrote.
A 33-minute surveillance video recorded the confrontation as it unfolded. The video, matched up with audio from Ramos' body recorder, was a central piece of evidence in the criminal trial.
The video began with Ramos stopping Thomas after the officer answered a call about a disheveled man jiggling the handles of car doors in a busy transit center parking lot.
Ramos grew frustrated with Thomas, who wasn't following orders to sit on a curb with his hands on his knees.
Just before the altercation began, Ramos snapped on plastic gloves, made two fists and then held them in front of Thomas' face as he said, "Now see these fists? They're going to (expletive) you up."
Cicinelli, who arrived a few moments later, jolted Thomas several times with an electric stun gun and used the butt end to hit Thomas in the head and face, breaking bones.
Cicinelli told investigators that he hit Thomas in the face because he feared he was grabbing at his stun gun.
"He cried out some 31 times saying 'Dad, they're killing me. Help me, dad. Help me,'" said Garo Mardirossian, an attorney for Ron Thomas.
That tape would have been played at the civil trial, causing additional pain, Mardirossian said.
An independent auditor found that the officers had violated the city's use-of-force policies.
The report noted that Cicinelli was recorded immediately after the incident saying that he had "smashed his face to hell" and "(expletive) beat him probably twenty times in the face with this Taser."
Thomas was taken off life support five days after the encounter.
A county pathologist ruled Thomas died, in part, from asphyxiation caused by injuries he received during the confrontation.
"It's been a long road, a very emotional road," Ron Thomas said at the news conference. "But you know as I've always said, no matter what I've had to go through, it's nothing compared to what Kelly went through. Nothing."
Follow Gillian Flaccus at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus
Jablon reported from Los Angeles.