Monday, January 13, 2014

Fullerton Police Officers Found Not-Guilty in Beating Death of Kelly Thomas

Two former Fullerton police officers were found not-guilty of murder charges stemming from the death of a suspect, Kelly Thomas after a violent altercation with the officers.  Thomas died from asphyxia, according to a coroner's report.  The two officers were charged with murder when surveillance video showed their violent altercation with the suspect.  Today, a jury found both officers not-guilty on all counts.

I agree with the verdicts.

This case is very complicated and not simply a matter of police officers using excessive force (which they definitely did).  This case, like most cases, needs to be examined from the very beginning and a determination must be made as to the proximate cause of the incident.  A proximate cause is that item which, were it not present, the outcome could not have happened in the same way.  More on that later.

Kelly Thomas was a 37-year-old homeless man who roamed the streets of Fullerton, California.  Apparently, he was schizophrenic and had been involved in numerous run-ins with the police.  According to a story in the Orange County Register, from 1990 until 2011, he had been arrested 92 times.  While the majority of these arrests were for minor incidents, not all were.  His most serious charge was for assault with a deadly weapon.  This is not the type of man who should be left to wander the streets.

And therein lies the problem.  Kelly Thomas was born to Ron and Cathy Thomas in 1974.  Ron is a former Orange County sheriff's deputy.  Ron and Cathy continue to live in the area, so why was their son homeless?  Why was a schizophrenic with a history of violence and criminal activity allowed to roam the streets unchaperoned?

I have not been able to find any good reason why Kelly was homeless.  He had a family living in the area and from their actions since his death, they appear to have loved the man.  Why, then was he homeless?  Apparently, the family was not able to deal with his mental illness so they released him to the streets so he could be someone else's problem.  I cannot reach any other conclusion.  If this is so, then the proximate cause of this action was the action of the parents.  Had their child not been homeless, the police would not have been called to stop him from breaking into cars.  The parents, then, are the cause of this entire incident.

If that is the case, then the city, with their limited training in dealing with mental illness, stopped a violent criminal.  Undoubtedly they went too far and firing the officers involved is certainly just but charging them with murder, in my opinion, goes too far.  These officers were sworn to protect the citizens and since Kelly Thomas had a history of violence, they did what they had to do to ensure he didn't bring harm to anyone.

What about the parents?  Why aren't they being charged?  Because their child was an adult it is within their rights to release him but I would suggest that this is a problem with our society.  When a couple brings a child into this world, that couple should be responsible for that child.  In the case of a child with a mental disability, the parents are responsible for that child for the child's entire life.  Ron and Cathy Thomas apparently absolved themselves of that responsibility.

Nearly a year after the death of Kelly Thomas the Fullerton City Council agreed to a settlement of one million dollars with Cathy Thomas.  A civil lawsuit by Ron Thomas is still pending.  The amount of that suit has not been disclosed.  It seems that the parents made out very well in this case.  They are rid of their burden and have made a good deal of money to boot.  They really should quit while they're ahead.

One more thing, I keep seeing this photograph of Kelly Thomas in the news stories:

This picture is from 2002, nearly ten years before his death.  There is another picture that was taken by police in 2009, two years before his death.  That picture is this one:

That paints a much different picture of the man.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Governor Christie and the George Washington Bridge

By now everyone has probably heard about the problems New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is facing with a certain incident on the George Washington Bridge.  For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it happened when Christie was in the middle of his re-election campaign.  The George Washington Bridge connects New Jersey with New York City and enters Jersey in the city of Fort Lee.  Fort Lee's Mayor, Mark Sokolich is a Democrat (Christie is Republican) and did not support Christie in the election.

A top aide to Christie (Bridget Anne Kelly) sent an email to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey representative David Wildstein, who was appointed to this post by Christie.  The email said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."  Wildstein replied with, "Got it."  He then ordered the closure of two of the three traffic lanes going into New York and kept them closed for four days.

Estimates are that as many as 500,000 vehicles were impacted by this action, resulting in millions of dollars in lost wages and time spent in unnecessarily heavy traffic.  There is also one death that has potentially been attributed to the closure.

Wildstein has resigned his position and when the cause of the closure was determined, Christie fired Kelly as his aide.  In press conferences Christie has maintained that he did not know anything about this incident until long after it was done and even went so far as to personally apologize to Mayor Sokolich for the unfortunate event.

All of this is well and good and on the surface makes it seem that Christie should not be implicated in this, however there is more to it.  Christie hired Kelly.  He should have either done a more extensive check of her background and moral character or at the very least made sure she understood that he had zero tolerance for such political shenanigans.  Christie also appointed Wildstein and he should have ensured that Wildstein was instructed appropriately as well.  Obviously, this was not done.

Christie is now considering a run for the office of President of the United States.  As President he will be appointing the entire Cabinet of his administration, as well as Ambasaddors and Judges, including possibly Supreme Court Judges.  Given his record of hiring and appointments, I have to seriously question whether he is the best person to be given this responsibility.  We don't need people like Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein running any part of our country.