FULLERTON, Calif. – Angry protesters gathered Saturday outside the Police Department of this Southern California city to decry the death of a homeless schizophrenic man who died after being beaten during a violent arrest.
About 400 people lined sidewalks outside the police station and chanted slogans such as “Justice for Kelly, No killer cops,” and “No justice, no peace, no killer police.” Many demanded the resignation of Police Chief Michael Sellers.
“The police chief needs to resign and apologize to the victim’s family,” said Robert Giannasi, a San Diego resident who had driven up the coast to attend the protest over Kelly Thomas’ death. “These people work for us, I don’t see why they are trying to subvert the system.”
Like several other demonstrators, Giannasi said he had a family member with mental illness, so the manner of Thomas’ death deeply resonated with him.
“This could have been my brother or uncle,” he said.
Thomas had symptoms of schizophrenia and a 16-year string of arrests on charges as varied as assault with a deadly weapon, public urination and jaywalking.
Six officers who were trying to search his backpack July 5 after reports of break-ins at a Fullerton transit hub got into a violent fight with the 37-year-old. He later died of severe head and neck injuries.
The lack of engagement and perceived secrecy in the case has frustrated many. Several demonstrators demanded the police release city surveillance camera footage they believe depict the beating.
The Police Department has called the case an isolated incident and put the six officers on administrative leave.
The FBI and the district attorney’s office are investigating.