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Fullerton Bar Owner Denies False Report Led To Kelly Thomas’ Death

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FULLERTON (CBS) — A former rocker is denying allegations that a false police report was filed from the bar he owns before 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, owner of the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen, as he discussed a wrongful termination lawsuit recently filed by former employee Michael Reeves.

“Anyone that goes and spends money at the Slidebar has the blood of Kelly Thomas on their hands!” a protester shouted outside the bar where Popoff denied allegations that manager Jeanette DeMarco called police and falsely claimed Kelly Thomas was trying to break into cars.

Thomas, a homeless transient, died following a violent confrontation with six officers who were responding to the report at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5.

In September, 37-year-old Fullerton Police officer Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas. Jay Cicinelli, 39, also pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and excessive force.

The lawsuit (PDF) was filed in Orange County Superior Court on June 8 on behalf of Reeves, a former security guard 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.

Reeves and his attorney will hold a news conference about the suit in Playa del Rey Wednesday morning.

Popoff’s attorney, Eric Durbin, says his client’s “heart’s broken like everybody else’s is,” and that Popoff was not 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,” Durbin said.

Popoff 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’, 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,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas would frequent the bar and even came in once when someone offered to buy him food. It also states 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, the night he was fatally beaten.

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,” according to the suit.

“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 suit states. “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.”

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 first album since 2004, “The View from the Bottom”, next Tuesday.

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 were wearing wristbands.

Attorneys Stephen Jamieson and Stephen Solomon, who represent Reeves, denied Dubin’s 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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