“I just start smashing his face to hell.”

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

This police beating of Kelly Thomas is one of the most heartbreaking videos I’ve ever seen. Not just for Thomas, although quite obviously for Thomas. But also for the sheer depravity—the staring-you-in-the-face confirmation that your fellow human beings are capable of this sort of thing.

Of course, the point is also that these aren’t just any human beings. You can find violent videos at sites like World Star Hip Hop that are every bit as soul-crushing. But these are the people we entrust with the exclusive power to use coercive force—which we do in the interest of protecting the public. Days after the beating, one of these animals called into a radio show to boast about it. The night of the beating, one of them demanded treatment for a scrape on his elbow as Thomas lay dying a few feet away, looking like this.

Public officials closed ranks. A “special assistant to the DA” was brought on to defend the officers. The police department shut down the flow of information, then released misinformation (though another public official later found no fault with that). The city then tried to pay Thomas’ father $900,000 to go away.

Were it not for a citizen with a cell phone camera, the agitation of a local blog, and the determination of Thomas’ father, himself a former cop, we may never have known about Kelly Thomas. And these animals could well still be on the police force in Fullerton.

It’s difficult as hell, but you should still sit down to watch this video. Once you’re done, you can restore some optimism with this video from Reason.tv, which explains how technology and social media eventually shamed Fullerton officials into taking action.

(Via Carlos Miller, who has much more.)


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75 Responses to ““I just start smashing his face to hell.””

  1. #1 |  CB | 

    >Nobody ever mentions the fact that Thomas had committed no crimes…

    I avoid the discussion of committing a crime from the standpoint of law. What the cop did would be a moral crime, even if the victim had broken a law and the cop had been protected by a double standard of law where the law didn’t apply to him (which is, in truth, the situation). We live in an “illegal everything” society such that it is impossible to live and not break laws. It does not justify the violent enforcement of law (which is what all law enforcement is, really).

  2. #2 |  CyniCAl | 

    Google Manuel Loggins Orange County Sheriff Deputy Darren Sandberg for another inspiring story of SoCal police street justice. Oh, no investigation to be completed for months and Sandberg is back on active duty.

  3. #3 |  CyniCAl | 

    Let that comment above be directed at #42 Burgers Allday, who thinks he’s on to something with the “isolated incident” meme. Really don’t know what you’re talking about Burgers, you seem to have jumped the shark (another meme!) with this one.

  4. #4 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Re: #51 The fact that he committed no crime is relevant because there is no statutory authority to detain him in the first place. A crime would not have excused there treatment of him but it would have given them reason to detain him.

  5. #5 |  demize! | 

    “Are there psych profile tests available that could weed out people who become cops so they can abuse others?” Yeah the results are the academy roll call.

  6. #6 |  demize! | 

    Im pretty sure @Burgersallday isn’t too sure what hes talking about either, but he’ll use alot of Latin while doing it, and God damn he wants to hear those 45 Zimmerman calls. SMDH..

  7. #7 |  James Sr. | 

    If there was ever substantial evidence of Murder backed up by a video of such. This would be that text book case of a group conspiracy . But, since they are employed by the people, it is not considered murder due to the fact of excessive force is not considered murder by the courts. Judge made defense to murder is what it is, not a fundamental right.

    Clearly established or not !! It’s still murder. And all should be tried as such.

  8. #8 |  Burgers Allday | 

    @52, 53:

    Like I said, the police excessive force cases that make me, errr, agitated, generally involve guns or tasers. I said that right in the post. I also said that generally the cases where the excessive force is what policemen call “hands on” are not too egregious. That doesn’t mean that they should not be punished, or that regcits shouldn’t care about them. It just means that they aren’t cut from the same cloth as the beating of Kelly Thomas.

    One I did not mention, and one where the beating did seem bad was Jordan Miles. But there the beating was so severe because Jordan Miles did not have a good reason to know that the men trying to abduct him were popo. That was probably an actual fight that got Miles beat so bad. As with many excessive force cases the problem there was lack of announcement and identification by police and the lie about the disappearing Mountain Dew bottle. You take those out of the equation and there would have been no Jordan Miles beating.

    This is way different than the Kelly Thomas beating. The Kelly Thomas police beating was just a plain old extra-judicial execution by law enforcement. If the kelly thomas beating is similar to anything, it would be the execution of Osama Bin Laden a couple years ago (with the caveat that we don’t get to see the video of that one).

    I am not excusing the police officers for beating Kelly Thomas. If I were in charge then all six would be standing trial for first degree murder. Still, it ain’t a perfect world, and the fact that even one on-duty, in uniform popo is on trial for murder is a minor miracle.

    I am just as outraged as you. I am not for the death penalty, except in cases where there is clear video evidence of all elements of the crime. In a world made to my liking, this is a rare, rare death penalty case. How’s my outrage now?

    I am not a big fan of law enforcement as it is currently practiced in the US.
    All I am saying is that this case doesn’t have that much to do with the real problems that infect US police forces.

    Does the system work? Not just no, but hell no. Is the system working in this case? So far, kinda, sorta, better than usual.

  9. #9 |  MassHole | 


    “If the kelly thomas beating is similar to anything, it would be the execution of Osama Bin Laden a couple years ago (with the caveat that we don’t get to see the video of that one).”

    As someone above mentioned, you have jumped the shark. The comparison above is so inane that it isn’t worth responding to. In fact, your whole comment at #58 is ridiculous. Why don’t you go do some of that citizen journalism Radley gave you a few tips on a while back and stop polluting the comments here. Your repeated interest in the Zimmerman 911 calls has become a running joke here if you haven’t noticed. That should clue you in that no one takes you seriously.

    “All I am saying is that this case doesn’t have that much to do with the real problems that infect US police forces.”

    Totally right dude! The real problem is the cops standing around watching were veterans!!!!!

  10. #10 |  Burgers Allday | 

    A couple more points about Kelly Thomas. Big picture points.

    It is likely that Thomas’es father was “lowballed” on the early settlement offer because he was not in contact with his son prior to the son’s execution and had a restraining order against the son. That casts a big cloud over the emotional suffering and punitive aspects of any tort case or section 1983 case. Normally, Mr. Balko seems skeptical of large civil damages awards for any and all reasons he can muster. There is a big reason to be skeptical here because of the apparently attenuated nature of the family/son relationship. Kelly’s family probably will get a big reward, but if he had been killed by, say, the negligent driving of a private company’s car, then I suspect Mr. Balko would suddenly understand the problems with Mr. Thomas’es tort claims. And these problems would still exist, and be just as serious from a purely legal perspective, even if Thomas had called out for his dad after hypothetically being run over by that hypothetical company car.

    Second point:

    In the 1970s, Governor Reagan emptied out California’s state run mental hospitals. This was a popular move. He ended up getting elected US president twice! It was also considered as a libertarian move, a smaller government type of thing to do. I can see why the move was perceived that way. Those hospitals cost money. Taxpayer money. It also deprive citizens of their liberty. Mentally ill citizens. It was terrible for California (my favorite place on Earth). It is move that we continue to feel the effects today. For example, I now prefer Portland to SF — even though the crazies there carry knives openly on the bus — at least there are fewer of them.

    More to the point, we still see the effects of this Great Libertarian Blunder in the Kelly Thomas case. I have no doubt that his family wanted a loving relationship with him. With a state run mental hospital that could have happened. It is what should have happened. But it didn’t happen. And it caused the Thomas family a lot of suffering, I am absolutely sure, both prior to, and on the day he was beaten to death. So, time for self reflection, and perhaps also time to ease off the nitpicking of how the state is handling the criminal prosecutions.

  11. #11 |  Burgers Allday | 


    I jumped the shark a long, long time ago.

    But, on the bright side, I am practically swimming in Pepsi Throwback these days.

    And everybody loves my new record album:


  12. #12 |  Tales From Your Police State: Animals With Badges « Scott Rhymer | 

    […] Balko over at The Agitator says it best: “But these are the people we entrust with the exclusive power to use coercive […]

  13. #13 |  CyniCAl | 

    Kelly Thomas was tazed. Five times. Four times directly to his body with 5 second bursts, once with the darts. And then the officer proceeded to simply beat Thomas in the face with the taser. So, again Burgers, why the distinctions here?

  14. #14 |  Burgers Allday | 


    I am saying that this is not typical of police brutality cases.

    I am saying it is an outlier.

    I am saying it is, by its nature, purposefulness, lack of provocation and severity of damage something fundamentally different than other police brutality cases.

    This is why I say it is an “isolated incident,” unlike all the other “isolated incidents” that really are not isolated and are part of a larger pattern as we know from Mr. Balko’s writing on the matter.

    Why would you have such problems with my thinking that, even if you did not agree? Certainly you can at least undersatnd why I see this particular case in the way I do even if you do not agree.

    Perhaps the most important part of being a police critic is being a FAIR critic. This just doesn’t look or feel like other police brutality cases, and that was true right from the start even before there was video.

  15. #15 |  CyniCAl | 

    OK, I see what you’re saying — the Thomas case is exceptional in its brutality. However, this is just an opinion. I and others see no real difference between this case and the myriad others occurring just about every day somewhere in the US. We can agree to disagree, happens all the time here.

    As for being a fair critic, I’ll leave that to you. I see no value in being fair with cops when reciprocity isn’t in their vocabulary.

  16. #16 |  Maria | 

    @62 “by its nature, purposefulness, lack of provocation and severity of damage something fundamentally different than other police brutality cases.”

    I actually get the feeling that this is one of the larger recent nails in the coffin of our American civil experiment. Even though it’s gotten a decent level of media exposure and roundly condemned by most people who hear about it or see the video. By that I mean, it could very well shift the acceptance and expectation of such brutality amongst officers into high gear.

    I fear that while now it’s an outlier in many ways, it’s going to quickly become the norm as the next few years progress.

  17. #17 |  Bill | 

    You just watched a live cold blooded murder. Believe or not believe, pray for this country.

  18. #18 |  Personanongrata | 

    “I just start smashing his face to hell.”

    There is no reform for a system of policing that commits such blatant acts of depraved indifference against the folks the police claim to be “protecting”.

  19. #19 |  Nick T. | 

    This is like a case where a man kills his whole family after leading a seemingly normal life. You realize that he must have been sick the whole time, but he controlled or restrained it. Only when he had a nice insurance policy, or a mistress to run away with etc. did he simply make a calculation to do soemthing so completely subhuman.
    And of course he was convinced he would get away with it. That’s a critical piece.
    These police are the same. They were completely sick the whoel time, and yet we entrusted them with power and violence and then we set up our society and our laws telling them they could get away with virtually anything, until the reward/motivaton threshold became so low that simply disliking a mentally sick man, and/or having a bad day was reason enough to unleash this thing lurking inside.
    Sadly this type of person is not uncommon. And so the threat/chance of punishment is a very important issue, at which our society gets a big red ‘F’

  20. #20 |  marie | 

    Outlier? Isolated incident?

    Not so much. This happened in Omaha.

  21. #21 |  Cornellian | 

    “I am saying that this is not typical of police brutality cases.

    I am saying it is an outlier.”

    If that were true, why wouldn’t any of the other cops intervene, or object, or speak out in any way? If it’s because there’s a culture of tolerating this sort of behavior, that means it isn’t an outlier.

  22. #22 |  GT | 

    Yes, it’s all very sad – but entirely predictable. Power attracts the worst psychotypes, and anyone who wants to try to convince themselves otherwise is fucking retarded. (Those calling for testing: three genes… MAOA-L , double COMT-Met, and whatever is the opposite of GG in oxytocin receptors. Put another way: low MAOA-L, COMT val/val and Oxytocin receptor GG and you’re more likely to be Salman Khan or James Altucher).

    So… what do? As they say on 4chan.

    Simple: kill the people involved, using private-sector mechanisms. If you rely on ‘the system’ to resolve issues like this, you will be sorely disappointed – because the system is NOT THERE TO HELP YOU, you fucking idiots. It never has been, was not designed to be, and has no intention of ever being, an actual aid to the betterment of society.

    Both ‘law enforcement’ and the ‘justice’ system – the State’s set-piece theatrics in which 70 year old white men in 16th century costumes parse the collected opinion of tax-parasites (politicians) – have been revealed to serve a purpose that is dramatically different from the purpose we are told they serve.

    That revelation has only happened as a result of massive reductions in the cost of disseminating information; the same shit has gone on for EVER.

    In some sense the rapid increase in awareness (for those interested – which most people are not) is similar to the mechanism by which a good slice of the ‘interested’ population got a “What.the.fuck.” moment post-Gutenberg, when the Bible was translated out of Latin and into the vernacular. People read that shit without a State/Church filter/firewall, and thought “You’re fucking kidding, right?”. (The State and Church then reacted typically: it started killing people for doing such translations – e.g., Wycliff and Tyndall. And in France in 1535, owning an unauthorised printing press was punishable by death).

    The printing press accelerated the end of Crown-and-Church control over information, and led to an acceleration of the Enlightenment and the spread of the thoughts of, e.g., Paine, de la Boetié, Molinari, Proudhon, Diderot, d’Holbach and so forth (yes, I deliberately advanced Paine in the chronology, for verily he is badass and boss).

    The internet is doing the same thing, only faster and with better graphics (woodcuts of Church henchman brutality were spread by pamphleteers in the 1500s though… but hardly in real time!).

    And it will end the same way: a 21st century version of the tumbrils.

    Men will – and must – die horribly for their roles in the rise of tyranny; otherwise the entire economic system will be left in ruins (it might well be anyway), because ALL of this shit is becoming more and more systematic, as the share of [Taxes plus NPSBR} in GDP rises inexorably (as it should be expected to when the political means are captured by the most highly-functioning of the sociopaths).

    So: economic theory tells you how this ends – bloodshed. The only remaining ‘swing variable is whether the bloodshed is
    * small-scale, private-sector and localised (à la Jim Bell’s “Assassination Politics”) or
    * large-scale, tax-funded and generalised (à la Pol Pot or any NATO operation: bombing of public infrastructure, artillery into schools and hospitals, white phosphorus burning children to the bone).

    This sounds alarmist – but this is where we are, folks.

    Mencken said it best: there is a time when a man must dust off his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats”.

    If these motherfuckers start to die in their homes as a result of ‘dynamic entries’ by people paid to fuck them up… the behaviour of their colleagues WILL change.

    So kill a half dozen of these cunts and be done with it. And upload the videos to Vimeo, because YouTube will pull them. /snark

  23. #23 |  Romney the Bully » Right Thinking | 

    […] want to talk about bullying? Video was just released showing the brutal and fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas. Have you seen this video on the national news? Has it gotten a hundredth of the coverage that […]

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    […] word” in this country, observing the ovine obsequiousness with which Americans submit to looting, brutality, sexual molestation and demands of literal obeisance to petty officials leads me to the […]

  25. #25 |  The Fourth of July « The Honest Courtesan | 

    […] word” in this country, observing the ovine obsequiousness with which Americans submit to looting, brutality, sexual molestation and demands of literal obeisance to petty officials leads me to the […]