Six California police officers have been placed on involuntary leave as the FBI and Orange County District Attorney investigate the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas in their custody.
Officers confronted Thomas, 37, on July 5, when investigating reports of a man burglarizing cars. Police say he became violent as two officers tried to search him, triggering the fight that drew in four more officers.
Thomas, a diagnosed schizophrenic, suffered severe head and neck injuries in the confrontation, the AP reports. He died July 10.
Thomas’ arrest by Fullerton police was captured on video, by a bystander with a cell phone and camera aboard an Orange County Transportation Authority bus.
On the cell phone video, the Washington Post reports, “a man can be heard screaming over a fast, clicking sound that those on the tape identify as a stun gun being deployed.”
The bus footage, obtained by the blog Friends for Fullerton’s Future through a public records request, shows passengers telling the driver that the officers pounded Thomas’ face and hogtied him as he cried out for his father.
Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, told the Washington Post on Wednesday that he was stunned to learn that police officers caused his son’s severe head and neck injuries.
“When I arrived at the hospital to see him, I honestly thought that gang bangers had got a hold of him like the cowards sometimes do and just beat him with a baseball bat in the face.
“Immediately my thoughts were to get with Fullerton police … and I didn’t learn until a certain amount of hours later the truth. That put me in absolute shock.”
The FBI and District Attorney, meantime, are investigating whether Thomas’ civil rights were violated during the incident.
“Your heart is sad” watching the videotape, the Orange County District Attorney‘s office said, CNN reports.
An attorney for the six Fullerton officers, meanwhile, said Thomas was combative with officers. The attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, also rebuffed the statement of a witness that the officers used a flashlight as a weapon, and said that contrary to other witness statements there was “no excessive use” by the officer of a Taser on Thomas.