By Amy Taxin
FULLERTON, Calif. — A California police department had no intent to deceive the public by releasing an old booking photo of a homeless man who died after a confrontation with officers or information about officers' potential injuries from the confrontation, an independent consultant said Tuesday.
However, the chief attorney for the Los Angeles Office of Independent Review recommended that the city of Fullerton draft a policy for releasing photos and make sure information is correct before releasing it.
"We found no evidence of intent by the Police Department to deceive or falsify," Michael Gennaco said during a packed City Council meeting as he gave an interim report on four issues related to the incident, which was partially recorded by bystanders' cellphone cameras.
Gennaco did not address the confrontation directly and said he aimed to report back about the struggle and Fullerton Police Department policies in April.
Police initially indicated that officers may have suffered broken bones in the July 5 confrontation with 37-year-old Kelly Thomas at a Fullerton transit hub. That turned out not to be the case, leading some people to question whether the department was trying to drum up sympathy, Gennaco said.
He also said the department should have consulted with Thomas' family before releasing an old booking photo that didn't portray him in a flattering light.
The city hired Gennaco after Thomas, who had been treated for schizophrenia, died following the struggle with six officers. Thomas died five days after the confrontation.
The Orange County district attorney's office filed charges last year against Officer Manuel Ramos, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
Other issues addressed by Gennaco included the call for service that night by a woman who said a person she knew as "Kelly" was "roaming the parking lot" and "looking in cars" and "pulling on handles." He also said a search of a backpack carried by Thomas revealed mail, a passport and employee identification belonging to other people, but these items had been discarded and lost _ not stolen.
Thomas' father said he thought the report somewhat vindicated his son but he did not believe the Police Department had no intent to deceive the public.
"All of it was intended to make Kelly look bad — every bit of it," Ron Thomas told reporters after the meeting. "They didn't have the facts there, and as it comes out now, it's not substantiated."
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press