Cops Vs. Cameras: The Killing of Kelly Thomas & The Power of New Media has a powerfully moving video about the brutal and fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas (a schizophrenic young man who cried out for his father as Fullerton, CA police beat him to a literal pulp) and the importance of citizen-produced public information to keep the government in check.

NOTE: Because of violent images, viewer discretion is advised.

The autopsy results from the death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic drifter who was allegedly beaten to death by Fullerton, California police will be announced today by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Rackauckas will also announce whether he will file charges against the officers involved in Thomas' death, following the office's investigation. The confrontation with police took place at a municipal bus station on July 5, with Thomas dying in the hospital five days later. This press conference comes weeks after the Fullerton police refused to answer questions about the case.

Regardless of today's announcements, Thomas' death is a case study of how ubiquitous phones with cameras and the Internet are transferring power from the government, police, and the media to the masses. Images and word of the beating spread not because of official communications but by viral cell phone video of the incident and a horrific hospital photo taken by his father of Thomas in a coma.

After the photo and video were released, the Fullerton community reacted in outrage at city council meetings and at protests outside the Fullerton police department. Whatever charges are filed (or not) today, the death of Kelly Thomas will remain an example of how new media is changing the old guard.

Here's the latest from the LA Times. There's a photo of masked Anonymi attending the coroner's report meeting.

Cops Vs. Cameras: The Killing of Kelly Thomas & The Power of New Media


  1. Unfortunately, unless the ‘power of the new media’ can go further than turning cases of “died due to injuries sustained while resisting arrest” into “beaten to death by cops, 3 reprimanded, 2 demoted, one probation for slight excesses in the line of duty, several protesters arrested”, it will be little more than a cute footnote…

    The finding of fact is a necessary, but not in itself sufficient, first step in the administration of justice. Step two is not optional.

  2. It would be nice if the police refrained from murdering people, not because they were afraid of being filmed, but because they are not psychopaths.

    1. Yeah, well good luck finding anyone that chose punishing their neighbors as a profession that is not a psychopath.

  3. I’m convinced that the shooting or killing of an unarmed person should result in immediate loss of pension, irrevocable firing, and speedy murder trial with a special prosecutor who doesn’t have a need for good police relations.

    Alas. It makes too much sense.

      1. An unarmed person is not capable of killing multiple armed and hostile police officers. There was no excuse for what the jackbooted thugs in Fullerton did, and no amount of exegesis or apologia on your part will justify it. You might as well tattoo SHEEP on your forehead.

        1. I didn’t say there was an excuse for what those officers did.  I said an unarmed person is quite capable of killing another person.  The Chemist said he thinks that killing an unarmed person should result in a murder trial and loss of job/pension etc… 

          I’m pointing that this is an unreasonable policy to enforce.  ALL police killings should be investigated with the full force of the courts, but a no-tolerance policy like that just doesn’t make any sense.  The “Blue Wall” is a travesty against civil rights.  If anything, police actions should be under even greater scrutiny because they are public servants who have monopoly on violence. 

          I understand that this is an emotional issue, and it boils my blood as well, but we are on the same side, and we aren’t sheep.  Understand my words before you judge please.

      2. Yes, unarmed people writhing on the ground while being tased are extremely dangerous to weaponized police in protective gear.

        You know what cops are right? Like, you’ve seen them before?

    1. Just read in the news about a drunk driver who ran from the police, crashed his car, jumped out of his car with his hand behind his back, and while avoiding the police dog and refusing to comply with the police orders, pulled something metallic out from behind his back.  He was shot one time by the police, and the metallic item turned out to be a cologne bottle.  Should the officer be irrevocably fired and tried for murder?

      Each case is different, and each circumstance requires its own response.  The cops who beat Kelly Thomas to death should absolutely get everything you mention, because their response was out of line with the situation.  However, to say any police reaction against an unarmed person that results in that person’s shooting or death should result in the destruction of an officer’s life is simplistic and smells of misarchy.

      1. Trials are to determine guilt. If the trial finds otherwise, what’s the problem?

        The police should be held to the same standard as the average citizen. If you or I killed someone pulling a cologne bottle out of their pocket- you better believe that we’d lose our jobs as we went to trial and go through a lengthy process where we were presumed guilty until proven innocent.

        Why should cops have it so different? Are they intrinsically more moral? You can argue that we need to fix the justice system, and I’d agree. In the interim however, it should apply equally to the police. I do not believe in de facto immunity- which is what you seem to be okay with.

        Stonewalker, this response applies equally well to you.

        1. I absolutely agree!  There is a standard for using violence in self-defense; in sum, if you have a reasonable and immediate fear for you life or the life of another you are allowed to use any force all the way up to lethal force.

          It is the difference between stabbing or shooting someone who has a gun pointed at you and that pharmacist who shot the robber while he was down and was convicted of murder.

          This standard needs to be applied evenly for all people in this country.  I would add though, that police should be under greater scrutiny for their actions because they are supposed to be servants.  They also have a monopoly on state-sanctioned violence – this is the greatest reason to keep them strictly under the thumb of the people.

          1. I think they are using the standard of “we have guns and are known for being bloodthirsty maniacs so anyone who doesn’t IMMEDIATELY kowtow is obviously a threat.” You or I couldn’t get away with that because we aren’t allowed to run around screaming and waving guns about to test our potential target’s reaction. It’s kind of like trying a witch, now that I think about it.

  4. When are the fucking sheep going to rise up and violently revolt against this shit? It’s happening EVERY DAY on the streets. 

    These officers MURDERED someone. MURDERED.
    They should be rotting in jail. And we all know they won’t.

    The United States was FOUNDED on rising up against a tyrannical government. And that tyranny has risen its head yet again.

    Wake up.

    1. This is why the Black Panthers formed.  They started out as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.  Bobby Seale is one of my heroes of Civil Rights.  They would patrol Oakland neighborhoods in solidarity against the Oakland PD who was rampantly murdering blacks.  Bobby Seale would shout commands to people who were being arrested, giving them advice on their constitutional rights.

    2. Those cops don’t deserve to be in jail, they deserve to be put down like rabid dogs. There should be a special streamlined process leading to the death penalty in the court system, with none of the normal delaying tactics and appeals available, just for public officials who betray the public trust in such egregious ways.

      1. Police brutality would suddenly disapear if we executed a couple crooked cops.  Honestly, I think anybody who is a position of power and public service who is guilty of corruption or abuse of power should be publicly hanged.  Ok, maybe I’m running my mouth too far.. but I really hate abuse of power.

  5. I do find it terrible that it is common for there to be situations where 4-5 large men beat someone to death, but since they are armed with badges there are no real repercussions… even when it is all on tape.  

    Compare this with the 18 years Damien Echols spent on death row for having black hair and listening to awful music.

  6. The officer will as usual be found not-guilty and just suspended pending an investigation that will never happen.

  7. I expect the Fullerton police to start breaking cell phones and cameras, and to demand an ordinance be passed forbidding the recording of police officers. The usual reaction to a case like this by the authorities is to forcibly cover it up, and make it illegal to be a citizen journalist. Fullerton residents should expect to be beaten, arrested, and charged with felonies if they point a camera or phone at a police officer. Welcome to Amerika. They already came for you, and your neighbors didn’t do jack.

          1. Also, don’t just put it behind a password.  Make it so that even you can’t easily retrieve it to delete it.  A bad guy could threaten you with something dear to you and you cave in and tell them the password.  Make it so that you don’t even trust yourself and once uploaded, it STAYS uploaded.  Also don’t send it to a machine on your own home network, or you are asking for a search warrant and subsequent “accidental” destruction of evidence…  Send it somewhere else, preferably more than one place, which you don’t control…  It’s endless levels of thinking about this shit.  We shouldn’t have to be doing this.  But we do and the good guys will eventually win.  By the way, don’t trust anybody who says he is a good guy.

          2. I have a mailing group set up on my Blackberry that sends messages (including photo & video “send to”) to Youtube, LiveJournal, and a number of friends outside the USA. I call it “iResist”.

  8. “gun and a badge and a license to kick your ass.”

    yes,  WHEN will the “people” rise up against this tyrannical abuse of power…  

    never.   sheep.   baaahhhh 

    I feel for the parents of this poor lost kid.  And I hope the cops,   well, we all know NOTHING will happen to them…  

      1. i am well armed,  and I have a bad attitude? well, no, that does nothing. Okay, I will begin a ‘sekret’ campaign to urinate on the door handle of any police car I can? Yellow Revolt!

    1. You are referring to “The Blue Wall”.  This “privilege and favor” scheme between agencies is perhaps the thing most disgusting and evil about police brutality.  Police brutality is a crime.  Government-sanctioned crime is deserved of violent protests.

  9. To all the ultra right conservatives, that will never heed any words of wisdow, re civil rights and the goverment, enjoy the picture of a Fascist sate while the military (police) rule to keep you safe, your personal liberties be damned.SO now watch as our Constitution burns and all our freedoms evaporate, you America have now reaped what you’ve sow.   

    1. Um, the Patriot Act was voted for nearly unanimously in Congress…  You are referring to the Authoritarians, who can be either right or left.  Either way they need to be OUT.

  10. Really wonder what will be the last straw, when will people wake up and say enough.
    Society norms seems to swing like a pendulum, and when it starts it opposite swing look out.
    And these thugs with badges really really really need to go into lock up with the general pop.

  11. Wow.  Isn’t the mnemonic for capturing someone “isolate, control, contain”?  It’s not so hard.  What was he going to do – run down the street?

    When you start beating someone you’re likely to cross the border between civilisation and the barbarism we previously existed in.  How is it possible people like that can walk free?  Let alone not restrain themselves in front of witnesses!  Was the urge to hurt THAT strong!?!

    That would make them psychopathic.

  12. This make me sick! This kinda of thing is happening daily thru out America.

    Sure 4 cops beat a guy with an illness to death and hey! Paid vacation!

    And we don’t get to know their names? If they are in the right why be afraid to face the public?

    Hmm I might have to listen to some NWA, Ice T, MDC and RATM today!

  13. So much focus on “authorities.”

    Basic treatise of government: power is ceded to a democratic (or democratic republic) government, including all agencies and agents such as police officers, by the populace which created it.  Given that relationship, the collective “we the people” are greater than “the government” and have the rights to amend or abolish it at our will.  As soon as we see public servants as In Charge instead of At Your Service there’s a problem (wagging the dog, and all that).

  14. Interesting!

    Here’s a live blog update as the OC DA announces charges:

    2:01 p.m. Breaking: Officer
    Manuel Ramos Charged With Second Degree Murder in Death of Kelly
    Thomas. According to the AP, “Fullerton police Officer Manuel
    Ramos surrendered to authorities Wednesday and was being charged
    with second-degree murder.” 

    2:04 p.m. VoiceofOC
    tweets: Two #Fullerton police officers have been
    charged with the violent confrontation with Kelly Thomas.

    2:05 p.m. Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas is
    speaking. “The public has been crying out for justice for
    Kelly Thomas.”

    Who knows if the charges will go anywhere though.  At least this is going to a court of law for Due Process…

  15. Police have a very difficult job and are generally not compensated well for that job. To function, they have to have limited immunity, otherwise every person they arrest could drag them into court. They also cannot be held to the same standards when it come to using force, or they would not last very long. Some cops abuse their power. Some cops get away with murder. Some people abuse their power. Some people get away with murder. The tone of the comments is out of line with the incident. This isn’t every cop; this is a couple cops who have been charged with murder.

    1. What you are suggesting is verging dangerously close on creating a separate, ‘more-equal’ class of citizenship.  do not want.

      A friend of mine just said this, in response to this article:
      “Police need to be held to a higher standard, not lower. That should be the cost of authority.”
      I feel this same way.

      1. Thank you. We put trust in our police to UPHOLD the law, not to be ABOVE it.

        All those people like Mr. Tooley need to go back and read the Magna Carta, which is effectively the document that the entire western world’s laws are started from.

        Oh, and let’s not forget: 
        “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

        EQUAL means EQUAL.

        Police are NOT held to the same standard of law that we are.
        How many cops do you see blasting through an intersection with their lights on, only to turn them off once they’re through?
        How many cops do you see not following the same traffic laws (signaling, et al) that we have to?
        How many cops do you see breaking the laws every single day? Plenty of them.

        And they get away with it because the watchers that are watching the watchers are members of the same group.

        If you don’t see that as a conflict of interest, well… I have a bridge for sale.

        1. I think we can all agree that police must be held accountable for breaking the law. What is your solution? A division of Internal Affairs? Or what we are doing, which is catching the bad ones on film? And what part of the Magna Carta are you referring to? The part where freeman have rights, but serfs can be treated like cattle? Or maybe this one 

          “No-one is to be taken or imprisoned on the appeal of woman for the death of anyone save for the death of that woman’s husband.”

          At least that one applies to serfs too! And who are people like me?

      2. Citizenship? I said nothing about citizenship. Authority? Certain jobs have authority. By your logic, that creates a new class of citizen. And I’m not creating anything. That’s how it is and has been long before we were born. Soldiers, police, and other enforcement arms of the government have greater rights to use force than citizens (varies state by state). If we want to change that, we can vote to restructure the police force or increase citizens’ rights to use force. As for standards, police are held to standards of professional conduct that citizens are not, on and off duty, as are most government employees. Your friend’s uncited wish granted.

        1. Ok, for any connotations of political undertones, strike citizenship.  I’m talking about humans and human rights, and what the government is allowed to do in it’s interactions with humans.

          Yes, police have authority, and with that authority should come INCREASED scrutiny.  My theory for the reason everybody hates the cops is because they get away with stuff like this.  There is a perceived difference in class, an elevation of privilege and favor under the law – which is *explicitly* illegal under the 14th amendment, mind you.

          Police should NOT have a greater authority to use force than regular people.  What does that mean, that police have a “more righteous” right to self-defense??  Are police lives more important than ours?

          You are excusing police misconduct and upholding this terrible status quo.

          1. I’m not excusing anything. But I appreciate the accusation. In fact I agree with Point 1 of seanmchugh’s  proposition. But, I do think as a practical matter, in the course of duty, that police must have the power to enforce laws with more force than a bystander could use. Again, if your state or country disagrees with this, it can be changed. Here’s the reasoning straight from the horse’s mouth. I think there is plenty of room for argument, but different jobs have different levels of authority. I can never search your house, but with a warrant, police can. In fact, the bill of rights forbids unreasonable search and seizure, which suggests the government has the right to search and seize in certain cases. I cannot speed on an interstate, but police and firemen can. I can’t veto a law, but governors and the president can. I can’t sentence you to jail, but a judge can. I know of no 14th amendment attacks on these authorities (but I’m neither a constitutional lawyer nor an academic). 

  16. Folks there is a meme running strong in all societies that think if the police are abusive everyone will fall in line. Along with the people who take to the streets to protest police abuse there are people huddled in their homes asking the police to abuse innocent bystanders as a means of keeping the peace. These are the very same people who understood the American logic of destroying villages in order to save them during the Vietnam war. They are what Nixon called the silent majority. Are they a majority? At times yes. Hopefully not all the time.
    The question is how to deal with this. The police are semi professional, and semi educated. I think two things would help push events more toward them being enforcers of the law and not enforcing of their will. 1) Is mandatory cameras and microphones with the data streamed live and made totally open source. That would be very hard to pull off. 2) would be an independent police force with authority only over other police. With a bounty to be had upon successful prosecution of a police officer.
    The police understand very well that they are needed as a means of keeping the peace and to be the main means of revenge and safety. I think that is true. But just as true as the statement that you and I must live under the gaze of the police, the police also must be policed.

  17. Something systematic should be done to improve our police force.  Here are two ideas:

    – Give formal recognition that crimes committed by those entrusted to enforce our laws are worse than crimes committed by the citizenry.  As someone mentioned above, double the punishment for criminal cops.

    – Generate incentives in recognition for how difficult it is to be a good, compassionate (or dispassionate when needed) cop.  Fire the bottom 25%, not just based on seniority but on some measure of performance, and give their salaries and benefits to the rest.

    What else?

  18. When I’m talking about the Equal Protections clause in the 14th amendment, specifically I’m referring to crimes committed by police officers.  It would violate the Equal Protections clause to give an officer a free pass just because he was an officer.  Under the law we are supposed to be a classless society.  I know it doesn’t work out that way.

    I’m not saying that police shouldn’t have the ability to draw down on a suspect, tackle a running suspect, taze a violent suspect, and even shoot an aggressive one.  I’m saying that when it comes to use of force, regular people should have all the same rights that police do, and police should not be given a special pass when obvious brutality is used.  Again, I’m not talking about force in the line of duty, I’m talking about the criminal behavior in the line of duty, eg – beating a man who is laying on the ground, screaming for his dad.

    Can we agree on these terms?

    1. I don’t think you have been reading my posts. I never defended police brutality. The two in this case are charged with murder. I just didn’t like the thoughtless and unfounded comments thrown out about all police in this comment thread. 

      1. They have been charged, but I’m not holding my breath for a conviction.  That’s just me being pessimistic though.  Or perhaps something will come to light in the court proceedings that truly will exonerate these men.  I doubt it, but I suppose that would be best of all.

        I need to bow out for awhile… back to work…

  19. Facts
    1…The police are not there to protect you.  there have been multiple cases cited in court that prove that police didnt act when they could have to save someones life and yet they werent held at all responsible even though their neglect of action caused innocent deaths.
    2…The police are NOT your friends, if they have EMPATHY for their fellow man they WILL NOT pass the psych tests.  Yes, if they care about people they cannot be hired to “deal with” people.
    3…The police lie more than they tell the truth.  They pretend to know what happened on a report from 5 years ago by reading up on their notes, they lie to people to convict them, they lie to people to control them.  They will use anything you say against you BUT NOTHING YOU SAY WILL BE USED TO DEFEND YOU!
    4…If or when you end up being beat up by the police they WILL charge you with resisting the beating regardless of if you actually did.  Its a simple way to make you out to be the bad person regardless of how badly they beat you.
    5…Police, caught red handed beating and even killing citizens will nearly always be found, wait for it, “GUILTY OF NO WRONGDOING” Then promptly paid for time off.  If for some reason they actually find the officers actions unbecoming of a police officer, he will be simply transferred to another city and put on the payroll there to beat citizens.
    6…The government is broke and lies, congress is the opposite of progress, the police are being stocked with hardened war vets who see their harassment as polite compared to the horrible things they did in another country.
    7…does there really need to be a 7?  Its the end of the world as we know it.  Hopefully you own firearms and know how to use them.

  20. The police don’t “have” authority – as individuals and en masse as an arm of the state / executive, they are granted, or licensed, authority to enforce the law of the jurisdiction according to the wishes of the citizens (we want them to be there to prevent descent into anarchic chaos).

    As such, they are beholden to the citizenry to enact the duties they take on with full accountability and transparency.  It so happens until nowadays that’s been avoidable – generally in the 70’s, people couldn’t see what they were up to, for instance.

    The use of force in enacting these duties has clear limitations, and each and every member of the police is unambiguously educated in these.  It is incumbent on them to conduct their duty in a professional manner.

    The majority of the police can surely be described as professional.  Unfortunately, in all countries, the idea of “having authority” attracts an unwelcome but apparently sociologically appropriate element.  This portion of the police does not behave appropriately.

    In incidents like this, these individuals become instantly apparent.  They have acted barbarically, in some kind of lustful fit of rage, and killed a man.  Obviously, policing this world can be frightening and difficult – they deal with the most dangerous and despicable people in our societies.  But unfortunately for them, they can never drop their standards – standards that are defined transparently and openly, and lean heavily on reasonableness.  What is reasonable is case-specific – facing an Uzi-toting dealer with his finger on the trigger, it’s reasonable to shoot.

    Arresting a man who is difficult to control, not so much.

    Beating anyone, no.

    Not paying attention to cries of submission, no.

    Video any incidents, discretely if need be, and do not stand back and allow events to proceed.  Call the individuals attention, and require they stop.  Shout, call for more witnesses, and tell them to calm down.

    This is such a tragedy.  Shame on the Fullerton police for not ensuring their officers didn’t do this kind of thing.  And may heads roll.

    They have their standards, and we created them, so hold them fully accountable.

  21. In Indiana cops may beat a diabetic to death without violating his/her civil rights.

  22. I do have to ask … why is this case more groundbreaking than when BART police killed Oscar Grant? Is it only because the police didn’t release information? Is it because of the severity of the beating as well?

    1. They roughed up, tasered multiple times, and after he stopped moving bashed his head in with the butt of a taser gun… all without provocation, to a mentally ill guy. Getting shot for no reason on the train platform is bad, yes – I mean, you wouldn’t think it could get worse than that… but Fullerton PD managed.

      I lived in Fullerton when this happened, and I went to the high school in NY the gay kid who committed suicide went to… not sure why places I’ve lived are the topics of many of the ridiculously negative news stories of the day! Strange.

  23. For what it’s worth, and as obvious as it may seem, there needs to be a huge culture shift within most police forces. As has been pointed out, the “serve and protect” motto has become ironic. Police are, in reality, in the customer service business. We–the public–are their customers. There seems to be very little realization of this within police ranks. 

    I had a tiny incident that illustrates this much more benignly than this tragedy. A cop was directing traffic at an intersection, he had set-up some traffic cones very poorly. At first I assumed the road was closed on the other side of the intersection in the direction I was going, but then cars on my left were turning right and continuing on the road I was on. There was a pause (as the light was still being followed) so I rolled down my window and asked, “can I still go straight?” He said, in a sophomoric voice: “sure, let me reset the cones so YOU can go the way YOU want to.” Then waved me to turn right. This guy was on the force of a very wealthy NJ suburb. In a nutshell, this twerp (and he was 5′ 8″ if he was an inch) had found a position in life that afforded him the ability to be a sad petty tyrant. It’s easy to see how he would go from being a poor traffic cop to cop that beats people to death.

    As to force and standards of accountability, I don’t, actually, think cops are protected when they use out-size force–officially protected that is. I think they have the same burdens as we all do under self-defense statues.

  24. Partly because it’s the cops job to stop that drunk driver and stop the person pulling out a gun. They are asked to endanger their own lives for the safety of the public, and leap into a dangerous situation instead of run from it.

    There is a fine line between doing your duty and police brutality, but as we’ve seen time and again police officers have been stepping way over that line.

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