Two Settlements for Families of Mentally Ill Killed by Police Errors

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Some riot police, by Flickr user "Charles de Jesus", licensed via Creative Commons.

Yesterday, a couple of similar settlements were reached concerning cases where undue police violence against innocent mentally ill citizens led to death.  Read on to find out the details.

 

 

In June 2011, Fullerton, California police approached Kelly Thomas while investigating reports of a homeless man looking into empty cars in a parking lot.  Thomas, a schizophrenic, did not immediately comply.  The six police officers then beat him senseless, long after he was subdued and pleading for them to stop.  Indeed, long after he stopped making any sounds at all.  Thomas died five days later.  It was all captured on video, the showing of which was so graphic during a preliminary hearing that several people had to leave the room.  The video can be seen here, though I must warn you, it really is pretty disturbing.  Thomas’s mother settled with the city for $1 million.  His father’s claim, however, is still pending, because he’s demanding that the six officers be fired and tried for criminal charges.  At least two of the policemen, Officer Manuel Ramos and Corporal Jay Cicinelli are already going to court for manslaughter, among other things.

Up north in Spokane Washington in 2009, police confronted Otto Zehm outside of a convenience store, mistaking him for a theft suspect.  The 36-year-old mentally ill janitor was beaten with a baton and tased by the first officer on the scene.  Zehm died two days later.  Once again, the entire assault was caught on camera.  The officer, Karl Thompson, was convicted last year of excessive use of force and lying to investigators, and is yet to be sentenced.  The civil suit brought by Zehm’s mother against the city of Spokane was settled for $1.67 million and an apology, which is a pretty rare thing to come by these days.

An interesting thing to note about these cases (and the one from yesterday) is that in all of them, the claims relied almost entirely on video evidence.  Without visual proof, would these police officers have gotten off with a warning?  I’ve written before that videotaping police is an effective way to protect your rights.  It’s looking now like it might be the only way.  I like to believe these ever-more-visible cases of police misconduct are not because actual police misconduct is increasing, but because cameras are becoming more available and therefore indisputable video is becoming more ubiquitous.  In other words, the blister’s always been festering, but now we can see it.