Did a false police report lead to the officer-involved beating death of Kelly Thomas in July 2011?
A wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Michael Reeves, a former doorman at the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen in Fullerton, Calif., alleges that his manager lied to police in order to get them to respond faster to her complaint about Thomas, a homeless man loitering on the premises.
According to the complaint, bar manager Jeanette DeMarco told the Fullerton police dispatcher, "Kelly Thomas is in the parking lot breaking into cars." In fact, Reeves claims, Thomas was only picking up cigarette butts.
The lawsuit argues that the allegedly false police report was the first in a tragic sequence of events that led to the fatal beating of Thomas. From the complaint:
The officers' confusion, based on Jeanette DeMarco's false report, gave way to greater confusion and ended only after it was already too late. The officers beat Kelly Thomas into a coma, and he was rushed to the hospital at the University of California Irvine.
Thomas, whose family has said that he suffered from schizophrenia, died five days later. In the weeks after his death, when investigators with the Orange County District Attorney's Office were interviewing Slidebar employees, Reeves contends that he told interviewers "the truth about what I saw and heard" -- and that his managers were furious at him for it. His responsibilities at work were slowly taken away, he alleges, and two months later, he was fired.
The district attorney's office declined to say whether Reeves did, in fact, discuss the allegedly false police report with investigators.
The Slidebar is owned by Jeremy Popoff, lead vocalist of the 1990s hit band Lit. Popoff, along with DeMarco and several other employees, is accused in the lawsuit of fostering an atmosphere that encouraged workers to do "anything necessary" to keep homeless people like Thomas far away from the bar.
At first, the complaint contends, that simply meant calling the police whenever Thomas or another homeless person appeared near the premises. But managers allegedly grew frustrated that officers would take as long as 30 minutes to respond to the call and then would only ask the transients to move along to a different spot.
That frustration, the complaint argues, is what led to DeMarco's resolve to "take care of this" on July 5, 2011, the night Thomas was beaten.
When asked why Reeves waited so long to file the lawsuit (he was fired on Sept. 23, 2011), Reeves' lawyer, Stephen W. Solomon, responded that the passage of time was irrelevant "in the realm of litigation" because there is a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful termination suits.
Solomon also said that his client's lawsuit "starts and stops" with the wrongful termination claim and has nothing to do with Thomas' beating. "The lawsuit is completely unrelated to any matters regarding the prosecution" of the people responsible for Thomas' death, the lawyer emphasized to HuffPost.
However, the 25-page complaint contains the entire publicly known history of Thomas' death, including milestones in media coverage and block quotes from the local blog Friends For Fullerton's Future about the Slidebar's possible connection.
The complaint itself is why Eric Dubin, an attorney for Popoff and the Slidebar, argues the case will be an easy one to get thrown out of court.
"This whole thing is all copy from blogs and sold to some lawyer," said Dubin. "Everything in that lawsuit is 100 percent false except that Reeves worked for us and then was fired. There was never a policy against the homeless or a relationship with police."
Dubin did confirm that a call to Fullerton police was made from the Slidebar on the night Thomas was beaten. He declined to paraphrase the call because he said the recording will soon be played during the officers' trial, but he did say, "I can tell you that she [DeMarco] never used the phrase 'breaking into cars.'"
In a statement sent to HuffPost, Reeves, who also gave a press conference on Wednesday, reiterated his position:
A Slidebar manager called Fullerton police and I heard her report that Kelly Thomas was in the parking lot breaking into cars. I knew her report to be false. I complained about that false report that night to my manager and continued to complain about the false report until the date I was terminated, on September 23, 2011.
Reeves is seeking at least $4 million in damages.
Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli are the only two policemen charged in Thomas' death. Ramos is charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli is charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
This 1998 family photo provided by the Thomas family shows Kelly Thomas, who died after a confrontation with police officers in Fullerton, Calif. on July 5, 2011. The Fullerton police department had no intent to deceive the public by releasing an old booking photo of Thomas or information about officers' potential injuries from the confrontation, an independent consultant said Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Thomas Family, File)
Cathy & Ron Thomas
Cathy Thomas and Ron Thomas, parents of Kelly Thomas, stand next to a memorial for their son on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in Fullerton, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Elisha Beulah, 33, right, cries by a memorial for Kelly Thomas, 37, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011, in Fullerton, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Kelly Thomas Supporters
Demonstrators wait for Orange County, Calif., District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, to announce that two police officers will be charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, at a news conference in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Kelly Thomas Supporters
People protest outside the police station in Fullerton, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, over the killing of Kelly Thomas, the homeless schizophrenic man who died after being beaten by Fullerton police during a violent arrest in July. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Cathy Thomas, left, mother of Kelly Thomas, the homeless schizophrenic man who died after being beaten by Fullerton police officers during a violent arrest in July, shakes hands with Fullerton police officers who barricaded a street to make room for a protest Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Fullerton, Calif. Six officers who were trying to search Thomas' backpack July 5 after reports of break-ins at a Fullerton transit hub got into a violent fight with the 37-year-old. He later died of severe head and neck injuries. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Ron Thomas & Mayor Richard Jones
Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, left, says goodbye to City of Fullerton Mayor Richard Jones after a meeting Wednesday Aug. 17, 2011 in Fullerton, Calif. The Fullerton City Council had just approved the hiring of a law enforcement consultant to investigate the death of Kelly thomas, a mentally ill homeless man after a violent confrontation with police that sparked outrage and protests by residents. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Computer-generated images based on Kelly Thomas' medical records are shown at a news conference, displayed by his father, Ron Thomas, Wednesday Sept. 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, allegedly showing Kelly Thomas had multiple broken bones in his face and cracked ribs. The family of the mentally ill man, Kelly Thomas, who died following a violent confrontation with six Fullerton police officers, has released his medical records, alleging he died of blunt head trauma that led to brain death. (AP Photo /Nick Ut)
Ron Thomas, center, father of Kelly Thomas, walks into the court to speak before the judge during the arraignment hearing for Fullerton Police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 in Santa Ana, Calif. Prosecutors charged one police officer with murder and another with manslaughter in the killing of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser and slammed with the butt of a stun gun in a beating that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (AP Photo/Paul Rodriguez)
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas
Orange County, Calif., District Attorney Tony Rackauckas clenches his fists to demonstrate how one officer threatened a homeless man, as he announces that two police officers will be charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, at a news conference in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Cpl. Jay Cicinelli
Fullerton, Calif., police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, left, and officer Manuel Ramos, right rear, are led away after being arraigned on charges in the death of a homeless man, Kelly Thomas, in Superior Court in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (AP Photo/Paul Rodriguez, Pool)
Officer Manuel Ramos
Fullerton, Calif., police officer Manuel Ramos is led away after he and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, not shown, are arraigned on charges in the death of a homeless man, Kelly Thomas, in Superior Court in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Ramos was charged with one count each of second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Thomas after a violent confrontation in Fullerton on July 5. (AP Photo/Paul Rodriguez, Pool)
Cicinelli & Ramos
This combo made from file photos provided by the Orange County District Attorney's office shows Fullerton Police Officers Jay Cicinelli, left, and Manuel Ramos. A judge on Monday, May 7, 2012 will weigh whether there's enough evidence to try the two officers, who are charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas after a violent confrontation with officers on July 5. (AP Photo/Orange County District Attorney, File)