Kelly Thomas case: Fullerton chief will defend firing officers

22 Jan
orange county bail bonds

Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, is interviewed during a break in the Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday outside of council chambers.

FULLERTON – The police chief said Tuesday night that he will “vigorously defend” his decision to fire three former police officers, two of whom were acquitted of criminal charges by a Superior Court jury in the death of a homeless man. Charges were then dropped against the third officer.

Police Chief Dan Hughes, speaking in front of a packed City Council chambers that included a dozen members of the media, also said he has been cooperating with the FBI, which continues to investigate the incident.

The FBI will decide whether to file charges against the former officers for federal civil rights violations, Hughes said.

Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos and Joe Wolfe, all former officers with the Fullerton department, were fired by Hughes for policy violations after a July 5, 2011, confrontation with transient Kelly Thomas, 37, who died five days later.

All three have appealed their terminations, City Attorney Richard Jones said.

“The criminal case against these former officers has absolutely no impact whatsoever on the decisions I had already made regarding the employment status of these former officers,” Hughes said.

Cicinelli, who along with Ramos was found not guilty on Jan.13, has told the Register he was “wrongfully terminated” and will fight to get his job back.

“I want this community to know that I am confident in the decision-making that I have made regarding these former officers and intend to vigorously defend my position and my decisions in each and every step in the employment grievance process that they have,” the chief said.

City Manager Joe Felz upheld the chief’s decision to fire the officers, who will next state their cases in front of an outside arbitrator, the city attorney said.

The City Council would make the final determination on the status of the former officers, Jones said. If the council upholds the terminations, the former officers would have the option of filing lawsuits for wrongful termination, the city attorney said.

After the chief’s statement, about 50 members of the audience addressed the council, many condemning the verdict in the criminal trial.

“I’m bewildered and frustrated as many people are,” said Jesse La Tour of Fullerton.

Others urged the chief to not re-hire the ex-officers.

Others criticized the actions of the police during a Saturday protest held outside the police station that resulted in 14 arrests. Most of the arrests were for suspicion of disobeying an order to disperse and for vandalism. A woman was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a news videographer.

The comments were mostly civil.

However, Alissa Kokkins of Los Angeles did step to the lectern, turn her back on the council and shout comments to the audience, saying the justice system “is broken.”

After disobeying orders from Mayor Doug Chaffee to speak to the council directly and not face the audience, Chaffee called for a 10-minute break.

After the break, more people spoke.



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