Kelly Thomas Civil Trial Settles; Video Evidence and Audio Evidence Played a Central Role

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The picture on the left is Thomas circa 1997. The right circa 2009. These images offer interesting testimony into Thomas' decent into schizophrenia.

The picture on the left is Thomas circa 1997. The right circa 2009. These images offer interesting testimony into Thomas’ decent into schizophrenia.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, attorneys for the City of Fullerton reached a settlement with Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, in his civil suit against the city of Fullerton and multiple police officers in the death of Kelly Thomas. The case settled for $4.9 Million, and the video evidence and audio evidence played a central role. This case has widely been known simply as the “Kelly Thomas” case.

The incident, which happened in July 2011, was captured by security video surveillance at a Fullerton bus depot where Thomas was allegedly trying door handles on cars. Audio of the incident was captured on numerous officers’ digital audio recorders (also known as DAR’s). Once video enhancement and audio enhancement techniques were utilized and the video evidence and audio evidence was synced together, an audio/visual narrative of the events that resulted in Thomas’ death were revealed to be much different than what the media often portrayed them to be.

NCAVF worked on the Kelly Thomas case both during the criminal and civil trials and spent countless hours reviewing, analyzing, and enhancing the video evidence and audio evidence for both cases. When the City of Fullerton was preparing for the civil trial, they knew that the forensic evidence was strongly on their side. After all, it was this evidence that caused a jury to return a not guilty verdict on murder and manslaughter charges after only 4 hours of deliberation. Civil charges have a lower level of proof, so a defense verdict was less sure in this case. However, in a press conference, Dana Fox, an attorney for the city of Fullerton, stated that he felt the jury selected for the civil trial was very favorable; perhaps implying that the jury would have favored the defense’s position.

As is often the case when a defendant chooses to settle a civil suit rather than go to trial, the decision to pay out $4.9 million to the plaintiff was not an admission of guilt; it was a pure financial decision. The City of Fullerton’s decision was based upon many factors, including the cost of mounting a 2 to 3 month trial, the cost of further bad public relations during trial, and the risk of trial sparking protests or riots with potential costs resulting from community unrest.

This decision brings to a close the criminal and civil litigations against the parties involved in Kelly Thomas’ death. What has still not been resolved are the administrative cases of the officers who were fired and are desiring to get their jobs back with the Fullerton Police Department. NCAVF will play a role in the use of the evidence for the administrative cases as well, as there is no doubt that the video evidence and audio evidence used in the criminal and civil trials will also be key in these administrative cases.

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