SE Smith on an incident that has apparently ‘made headlines around the world’ despite the fact that it is the first time I’ve heard of it, and I’m a bit of a news junkie…
On 5 July, police officers in Fullerton, California, responded to a call that a man appeared to be breaking into cars in a bus station parking lot. What could have been a routine call turned into a tragedy when six officers allegedly beat a 37-year-old homeless man with schizophrenia so severely that he fell into a coma. Six days later, Kelly Thomas was taken off life support and died.
So, a story about police brutality?
This is a story that could easily have fallen through the cracks. Cases like this are common across the US and they rarely make the news..
What, people are regularly beaten to death by police? I think that might actually make more than headlines if so…
Approximately one third of the homeless population in the US experiences severe mental illness and many homeless people lack access to mental health services, particularly in California, where a series of brutal cuts to mental health programmes have gutted county and regional agencies.
Ah. Right. It’s the mental illness that’s common.
Well, it is California…
.There are many Kelly Thomases in California.
You said it, love!
One man, however, decided that Thomas’s death should not go unremarked. Tony Bushala, a real estate developer who runs the site Friends for Fullerton’s Future, was outraged, and he refused to let up, publicising the story until the mass media picked it up.
A classic case of ‘socially responsible citizen journalism’, as this dim woman seems to think?
The facts of the case are difficult to discern; the Fullerton police department has been extremely tightlipped about the case, and refuses to release statements and video from the officers involved, who remain unnamed. Speculation about the case fill in some of the gaps; Friends for Fullerton’s Future has revealed the names of the police officers it suspects were involved, for instance.
That was very ‘socially responsible’, wasn’t it? And note that the names were just those of police officers it suspects were involved.
If anything happens to the person or homes of those named police officers, I hope they sue your company into the ground, Mr Bushala.
And in California, they aren’t short of lawyers, I hear…
What is known is that police received a call about break-ins, and found Thomas at the bus stop. They approached him for questioning and he attempted to flee. Witnesses at the scene claim that the police tried to restrain him and when he struggled, they commenced a beating with their flashlights and used Tasers to subdue him.
There’s no excuse for any excessive violence shown, but it seems that taser isn’t as effective as it should be in subduing the violent mentally ill.
Something to think about for Inspector Gadget’s readers?
Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, is an ex-law enforcement officer who is deeply troubled by the case. He claims that he’s been offered $900,000 to settle the matter out of court, and is considering accepting the money to create a fund in honour of his son. Meanwhile, Fullerton has exploded with rage over the alleged police brutality case, a highly unusual occurrence for Orange County.
Orange County is one of the most conservative counties in California. It is strongly Republican and very pro-law enforcement. Yet protesters are showing up on the streets and outside the police station to express their rage about the Thomas case.
Yes, protesters are showing up and they can’t possibly be from out of state, or rent-a-cause professional protesters. Ms Smith knows this, because she’s interviewed them all, has she?
If she has, she makes no mention of it…
Some media reports on the story claim that Kelly Thomas was gentle and kind, statements repeated by many people who knew the man, who was a fixture on the streets of Fullerton. Others claim that he was a “problem”. Thomas certainly had clashes with police at various points during his life and racked up an assortment of charges related to these incidents; Ron Thomas claims that his son went on and off medication, a common issue for homeless people with mental illness, and may have been agitated and unable to understand commands from police.
Then he shouldn’t have been allowed to wander around, should he?
So, Ms Smith is going to argue for less ‘care in the community’, is she?
Well, what do you think?
The case highlights the need for better mental health services in California, where community care could be made available at a fraction of the costs required to deal with untreated mental illness, which often lands people in jail and prison.
It also illustrates the continued need for better police training in handling interactions with mentally ill people; trained officers could have defused the situation without manhandling their suspect.
Could they? In your home country, don’t they call that ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’?
When, do you suppose, was the last time Ms Smith attempted to arrest a violent mental patient?
Yeah. That’s what I figured.