TO STOP POLICE VIOLENCE, THE PERPETRATORS MUST BE PUNISHEDBy CalWatchdog.com
Let us be clear: the death of Kelly Thomas was not a “tragedy’ during a “confrontation” or an “altercation”; it was a gang killing, in which six men beat to death a small, mentally ill man who was completely unconscious as the final death blows fell. The six killers were police. And now, although Kelly Thomas is dead at 37, perhaps the growing public outrage over his killing can be the impetus for some good—for some much-needed reforms.
First, to stop police violence, it must be punished. That means that the actual perpetrators have to be punished, as opposed to the city buying off the survivors with piles of taxpayer money. And punishment means criminal prosecution, not administrative reprimand or paid leave. And criminal prosecution means an honest attempt to convict the killers of whatever crime, if any, fits the facts.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukus has said that he has seen no evidence of intent to kill. So what? As the DA well knows, a killing need not be intentional to be murder, or even first-degree murder. According to witnesses, Kelly Thomas was beaten to the point of disfigurement, and tased repeatedly. If either of these is true, his death would be prosecutable as felony murder, i.e., a death occurring during the crime of mayhem, under Penal Code Section 203 or a death occurring during the crime of torture, under Penal Code Section 206.
Nor should the prosecution stop with the killers. Someone in the police department put forth the ridiculous lie that two of the police had suffered broken bones in the “confrontation.” Attempting to help criminals evade detection by lying for them makes one an accessory after the fact. If any of the Fullerton six are convicted, then the liar(s) in the department should also be prosecuted.
Furthermore, we probably shouldn’t even ask the DA to investigate and prosecute the police. They work together every day as partners. The conflict-of-interest is just too great. One solution would be to form a special unit in the Attorney General’s office to investigate and prosecute cases of extreme police misconduct.
Another reform to honor Kelly Thomas would be to make it illegal to prevent anyone from filming uniformed police arresting people. Nationwide, police have attempted to arrest and intimidate citizens with cameras. But it is cameras and only cameras that police the police. Keep them running.
Finally, leaked reports claim that the killers bragged about what they had done to Kelly Thomas. If true, this is very disturbing. Who would brag about that? Inexplicably, the 99 percent of good, moral police suffer the presence of a few sadists. And the blue wall of silence arises whenever the police kill a suspect, no matter the circumstances.
Why? The police wouldn’t protect a cop who murdered his wife. There would be no silence if the dead suspect was an 8-year-old shoplifter. But because the suspect was a grown man it is somehow open season to beat him beyond all humanity. This raises questions of whether there is pathological aggression in search of an outlet.
Will we find out anything else about the aggressors here in the world following the 2006 Copley decision, which shut the door on the public’s right to learn about disciplinary procedures against bad-behaving police officers? It’s doubtful, for instance, that we would learn whether any of these officers were on drugs, specifically aggression-enhancing steroids.
Nationwide, police have resisted drug testing for steroids as “too expensive,” as if buying off the survivors of police violence with taxpayers’ money were not expensive. Many people drug test for their jobs. Maybe police should, too, if steroids turn up in this awful case.
Mark Cabaniss is an attorney from Kelseyville. He has worked as a prosecutor and public defender