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California city to pay $4.9 million over fatal beating of homeless man

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The city of Fullerton, California, agreed on Monday to pay $4.9 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the father of a homeless man beaten to death by two then-policemen, an incident that sparked protests in the Los Angeles suburb, the plaintiff’s attorney said.

The settlement was reached on the same day the trial was scheduled to begin in the wrongful death action filed by Ron Thomas against the city, police department and two ex-officers over the beating of his 37-year-old son, Kelly Thomas, in July 2011.

Fullerton City Attorney Richard Jones said in a written statement the final settlement amount was still pending final approval by the city’s insurers.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted the two former officers, Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos, of all criminal charges in the high profile case. The FBI said following that verdict it was re-examining the case.

During the criminal trial, prosecutors accused Cicinelli and Ramos, who had approached Thomas near a bus depot to question him about reports of vandalized cars, of turning a routine law enforcement encounter into an unnecessary and savage beating that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.

The incident was caught on a surveillance camera at the bus station and led to angry street demonstrations in Fullerton, 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Los Angeles, as well as the ouster of three city council members in a recall election.

On the videotape, before the confrontation turns violent Ramos is seen strapping latex gloves on his hands, balling them into fists in Thomas’s face and telling the drifter, whom he knew from previous encounters: “You see these fists? They are getting ready to f--- you up.”

By the end of the tape, Thomas can be heard screaming for help as officers swarm over him, delivering multiple blows and shocks with a stun gun. He is heard calling dozens of times for his father to help him, yelling: “Daddy, they’re killing me.”

Thomas’ father at a news conference on Monday that he had hoped a trial would have forced the two ex-officers to explain their actions.

“We know the truth and I wanted that truth brought out,” Ron Thomas said.

The city of Fullerton previously already agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas’s mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son’s death. The victim’s parents are divorced and litigating separately.

Additional reporting by Alan Devall in Los Angeles; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Michael Perry