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3 councilmen face recall over alleged beating death in Fullerton, California

By Michael Martinez and Casey Wian
updated 4:59 PM EDT, Tue June 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three of five council members in Fullerton, California, are facing a recall election Tuesday
  • The city is reeling from accusations that Fullerton police beat to death a homeless man
  • Two police officers have been ordered to stand trial in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37

Fullerton, California (CNN) -- Three members of the Fullerton City Council were facing a recall election Tuesday amid political fallout from the death of a homeless man who was allegedly beaten last year by city police officers.

Voters were casting ballots Tuesday on whether to recall Council Members Pat McKinley, Don Bankhead and F. Richard Jones. McKinley is serving as mayor pro tem.

Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless man with schizophrenia, was allegedly beaten to death in July 2011 by Fullerton officers. Residents who were outraged by the incident viewed the three council members as part of the city's old guard. The city's other two council members are not facing a recall.

At a preliminary hearing last month, two officers were ordered by a judge to stand trial in the death of Thomas, who was shirtless and carrying a backpack when police responded to a call that a transient male fitting Thomas' description was trying car door handles at the city bus depot.

Officer Manuel Ramos, 37, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Patrick Cicinelli, 39, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force. They have pleaded not guilty.

Tony Bushala, a leading organizer of the Fullerton recall election, said he was seeking accountability for Thomas' death.

"There was a murder right here at the transportation center of an unarmed homeless man at the hands of our government, our police department, and somebody needs to hold them accountable," Bushala said. "Somebody needs to step up to the plate, and when there's something in the community that's wrong and if you have the money and you have the time, then you need to stop what you're doing and focus on getting your community back on track."

Christine Walker, a supporter of the recall, said she was confident that all three council members would be ousted Tuesday, "because we've been able to just expose a light on the dirty politics on the city of Fullerton for more than 30 years."

"In less than 24 hours, we're going to have our city back," Walker said on Tuesday.

One of the three councilmen facing recall, McKinley, said an "incredible" amount of money was behind the recall campaign.

Regarding Thomas' death, McKinley said: "If we would have let our feelings be known that we were appalled by all this -- just like anyone else we were appalled by it -- perhaps it would have quelled it a bit, but I think it would've went forward anyway."

The ballot also allows voters to select from a list of candidates who are running for Fullerton City Council in the event that any of the three current members are recalled.

Voters can choose one of five candidates to fill Jones' remaining term ending December 4, 2012, if Jones is recalled.

Four more candidates are running to fill McKinley's remaining term ending December 2, 2014, if he is removed from office.

Another four candidates are vying for the duration of Bankhead's term, also ending December 2, 2014, if Bankhead were to be recalled.

The city is spending between $129,000 and $160,000 on the recall election, which is occurring in tandem with California's statewide primary elections Tuesday.

CNN's Casey Wian and Lindy Hall reported from Fullerton and Michael Martinez from Los Angeles.

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