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Fullerton Bar Owner Denies False Report Led To Homeless Man’s Death

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(CBS) Mike Landa
Mike Landa is KNX Newsradio's Orange County Bureau Chief. For more...
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FULLERTON (CBS) —A former rocker and current owner of a bar in Fullerton denied allegations on Tuesday that a false police report was filed from his bar where a fatal confrontation between police officers and a homeless man took place.

KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports a crowd of demonstrators greeted Jeremy Popoff, the owner of the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen, as he addressed a recently filed wrongful termination lawsuit.

“Anyone that goes and spends money at the Slidebar has the blood of Kelly Thomas on their hands!” shouted one protester outside the bar where Popoff denied allegations that manager Jeanette DeMarco called police the night schizophrenic transient Kelly Thomas was involved in an arrest that led to his death and falsely claimed Thomas was trying to break into cars.

The lawsuit (PDF) was filed in Orange County Superior Court on June 8 on behalf of former security guard Michael Reeves, who alleges that Popoff — a former guitarist for the pop band Lit that scored a 1999 hit with the song “My Own Worst Enemy” — was “obsessed with Slidebar’s image” and that “homeless people had no place” in his vision for the bar.

But attorney Eric Durbin said that while Popoff’s “heart’s broken like everybody else’s is”, he rejected any claim that his client was responsible for Thomas’ death.

“Jeremy and Slidebar had nothing to do with what happened to Mr. Thomas that night, and if something wrong happened that night, it’ll come out at trial, ” said Durbin.

Popoff himself said he denies any wrongdoing or that he’s seeking any wayward publicity.

“I’m embarrassed that y’all are here right now,” he said. “I feel like somehow I’m getting on TV because of something horrible that happened and I would never, ever want that.”

Thomas’ father Ron said he believes the call was exaggerated in an attempt to remove his son from outside the bar.

“If it was just a loitering call, then it’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll make him stop standing there’,” said Thomas.

“But when an officer hears ‘crime in progress’ kind of thing, they have to have a little more heightened awareness about them and handle things a little bit differently.”

According to the lawsuit, Thomas would frequent the bar and even came in once when someone offered to buy him food. On July 5, 2011, the night Thomas had his confrontation with six Fullerton police officers, Thomas was picking up cigarettes in the parking lot of Slidebar, not trying to break into cars at the Fullerton Transportation Center across the street, Reeves alleges in the lawsuit.

DeMarco told Reeves, who was working the bar’s front door, that she saw Thomas in the parking lot and that she was going to “take care of this,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Mr. Reeves asked her not to call the police and explained that Kelly Thomas was only picking up cigarette butts and would move on in a couple minutes like he always does,” the lawsuit alleges.

“To his disbelief, Mr. Reeves then heard Jeanette DeMarco make a knowingly false report to the Fullerton police dispatcher that `Kelly Thomas is in the parking lot breaking into cars,”‘ the lawsuit alleges. “Though normally happy to keep his head down, Mr. Reeves could not tolerate Jeanette DeMarco’s blatantly false statement, and he told her that what she had just done was wrong.”

Officers Manuel Ramos and Joe Wolfe were the first to respond. While Wolfe went through Thomas’ backpack, where he found mail addressed to an attorney, Ramos and Thomas got into an at-times sarcastic exchange that ultimately led to the deadly confrontation when Thomas tried to get away from the officers.

Thomas was hospitalized and was taken off life support five days later.

Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, while Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who arrived at the scene later, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

Attorney Eric Dubin, who represents Popoff, denied Reeves’ allegations.

“They’re completely false and fabricated,” Dubin said. “He (Reeves) never mentioned this to the district attorney or in his termination hearing. It’s only now that Jeremy has a new album coming out and that Kelly Thomas is in the news.”

Lit is releasing its album “The View from the Bottom” next Tuesday, it’s first since 2004.

Dubin accused Reeves of demanding money from Popoff before filing the lawsuit.

“They came at us with a money demand or else, so we contacted the FBI,” Dubin said, adding that Popoff is considering a countersuit.

“We’re absolutely thinking about malicious prosecution and any other legal remedy we can find,” Dubin said.

Popoff is “very hurt by these allegations and he finds it appalling someone would try to capitalize on tragedy,” Dubin said.

Reeves was fired because he got into a confrontation with a manager in front of customers, Dubin said.

“He was letting girls in through the side door who had already been evicted and the manager confronted him about it,” Dubin said.

Reeves alleges in the lawsuit that he let three women back into the club because they had wristbands on that were given to them for the live show that night. The women said they had gone back to their cars to drop off their purses and Reeves stated it was common to let women who did that come back into the bar if they had wristbands on.

Attorneys Stephen Jamieson and Stephen Solomon, who represent Reeves, denied Dubins allegations.

“We don’t know anything about his (Popoff’s) new album,” Solomon said. “But his (Dubin’s) statements are totally untrue.”

Reeves did tell his employer and prosecutors about the 911 call, Solomon said.

“He talked to his employer, he made known his views and he was told to keep it to himself by his employers,” Solomon said.

“This entire incident is an American tragedy. He ultimately got fired for simply telling the truth,” he said.

After Thomas’ death started making news, Slidebar’s managers attempted to put a lid on the business’ role, Solomon said.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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