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Fullerton Police Beat to Death Mentally Ill, Homeless Man

Fullerton Police Beat to Death Mentally Ill, Homeless ManA police officer only needs to use “reasonable force” to make an arrest. How many Fullerton, Calif. police officers does it take to arrest one man?

Well, it took five patrol cars, 6 officers, tasering 37-year-old Kelly Thomas numerous times, and beating him so badly that he went into a coma. And then died a few days later.

What was Thomas’s alleged crime that resulted in his death? Breaking into cars, looking for things to steal.

Welcome to our more violent America, where citizens stand by while the police beating took place, too afraid to intervene and save Thomas’s life. Is this what we’ve come to?

Kelly Thomas was a long-time member of the Fullerton homeless community, and apparently had schizophrenia. While sometimes scary looking (as not bathing and not having access to regular changes of clothing and grooming accessories does to many people), people on Fullerton Stories mostly remember Thomas as a “quiet and polite” man, someone who was “gentle and childlike.” But of course, untreated schizophrenia can result in strange and unpredictable behavior — behavior that some might take as threatening or hostile.

Gawker has the story:

Thomas—who suffered from schizophrenia, and was homeless—caught the attention of the police after someone reported that a burglar was breaking into cars parked near a Fullerton bus station. When officers approached Thomas in the depot parking lot and tried to arrest him, he resisted.

So his apparent crime was breaking into cars. Why do you need to use such force against a common thief?

To me, this is just another example of poorly trained police officers who immediately jump to conclusions about a person — “He’s homeless, he must be drugged up, he must be looking for his next high, he won’t know what hit him” — and let the chips fall where they may.

What police are forgetting is that nowadays, people are everywhere with their camera phones and other video recording devices. They can no longer hide behind their paperwork and “let’s all tell the same story and stick together” mentality — the video will tell the truth.

And while the person who shot the video below was way too far away to actually shoot anything happening (even the distant sounds are hard to make out, especially over the running commentary by the person shooting the video), it’s still pretty interesting from a perspective about the psychology of a small group of citizens looking on to a show of force by their own police.

Here’s a small group of people who, from their comments, are pretty clearly upset and adamant that the police are going too far in this situation and beating a single person — 6 against 1. But instead of forming a cohesive group and bringing their concerns to one of the officers, they stand back, far away from the action with a “It’s none of my business” mentality. The group is afraid — fear keeps them back and nonconfrontational.

This may also be an example of the power and pull of authority on groups of people, as illustrated by famous experiments such as the Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo in 1971 or the Milgram experiment by Stanley Milgram in 1961. We may be inclined to obey authority figures without question, even when doing so goes against our own personal morals and values.

And, after all, if our own local police department can do this to a man — a man who was doing nothing more than allegedly breaking into cars — what might they do to me if I try and intervene on another human being’s behalf?

An investigation into the six officers behavior has been opened by the district attorney’s office, so only time will tell whether “reasonable force” was used in this situation. But by all accounts, here was a man who was mentally ill who didn’t deserve to die for his crimes.

Video of the incident (taken from afar):

Witness who saw the beating describes it:

“They kept beating him and Tasering him. I could hear zapping, and he wasn’t even moving,” said Turgeon. “He had one arm in front of him like this, he wasn’t resisting. And they kept telling him, ‘He’s resisting, quit resisting,’ and he wasn’t resisting.”

Interview with Ron Thomas, the man’s father and a former sheriff’s deputy:

Read the full article: Police Beat ‘Gentle’ Homeless, Mentally Ill Man to Death

Photo courtesy of The Fullertonian.

Fullerton Police Beat to Death Mentally Ill, Homeless Man

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Fullerton Police Beat to Death Mentally Ill, Homeless Man. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 31 Jul 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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