FULLERTON (CBS) — There was no evidence that Fullerton police tried to deceive the public in the period following a violent confrontation between officers and a homeless man, an independent investigator released in a report Tuesday.
Kelly Thomas, 37, died days after the encounter with police, who were responding to reports of car burglaries at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5.
In the first of three reports to the Fullerton City Council, Michael Gennaco said police should come up with an updated policy on the release of booking photos. Police released an unflattering 2009 booking photo of Thomas that some critics claimed was an attempt to denigrate him. Gennaco said the photo was indeed Thomas, but he suggested that police could have consulted with the man’s family to arrange the release of a better photograph.
Thomas’ father didn’t initially believe the photo was his son but Gennaco insists it was.
“Gennaco and I are right on track with each other on all issues thus far,” Ron Thomas said after the report was released. “I see…there is justice for Kelly up ahead.”
The former deputy said Gennaco told him that he doesn’t believe the publicized mug shot was really his son, but that the phone call made by that inmate suggests it was him.
The investigator also found that the police department released an initial report that indicated several officers suffered broken bones in the confrontation. That was later found to be incorrect and Gennaco said the media should have been given updated information.
“The department would have been better served if there was a clarifying public statement about the new facts,” Gennaco said.
He made sure to clarify, “While there is criticism here about the decision…it should not be taken as an affirmation that this was intentionally done, or that this was deceptively done, or that this was falsely done. That’s not what the evidence has suggested in this case.”
Gennaco will make a second report to the council in March or April, according to city spokeswoman Sylvia Palmer Mudrick. In that report he will review the police department’s overall policies and procedures. A third report will be given to acting Police Chief Dan Hughes that focuses specifically on Thomas’ death. Gennaco said he is still working on the internal affairs investigation, which he was hired to lead, and should be done sometime in March.
In September, 37-year-old Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Thomas’ death. Jay Cicinelli, 39, also pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and excessive force.
Ramos, a 10-year Fullerton Police Department veteran, faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted. He’s being held on $1 million bail.
Fullerton Police Chief Kevin Hamilton stepped down last year in the wake of Thomas’ death.
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