[UPDATED: Ron Thomas Eases Tensions] Kelly's Army Fracturing Due to Questions of Money Raised and Ron Thomas

Kelly Thomas cowboy 2.jpg
[See bottom of post for update.]

ORIGINAL POST, Sept. 21, 3 p.m.: After more than a year of police brutality protests that launched a successful city recall election and saw two Fullerton police officers charged with killing mentally ill homeless man Kelly Thomas, Kelly's Army--citizens who banded together to insure justice--has fractured.

Members of the activist group and an organizer of a recent art show held to raise money for the Kelly Thomas Memorial Fund (KTMF) say questions over how donations are being spent have driven a wedge between Ron Thomas, the victim's father, and the group. 

Stephan Baxter, who organized the Art with an Agenda show at the Pas Gallery in July said the conflict reached a boiling point yesterday after Thomas refused to honor a verbal agreement the two had regarding the disbursement of donations from the event, which totaled $10,200.

"I wanted to get a promise from him prior to turning the money over," said Baxter, who asked Thomas to sign a contract promising to donate a portion of the money within 30 days to local homelessness charities. Thomas refused to sign, according to Baxter who turned the money over to the foundation anyway.

(The foundation began in 2011 with the stated mission of dedicating assistance to homeless men, women and children of Orange County and is run by Mr. Thomas.)

"I thought it would appease his detractors if we had $5,200 donated right away," said Baxter. "Out of the money that came from the art show, he gave $2,000 to First Christian (Church of Fullerton)."

Baxter maintains the rest of the money would go to a charitable organization called Pathways of Hope.

"As it turns out," said Baxter. "It hasn't."

Speaking to the Weekly, Thomas said that he has been working with acting Fullerton police chief Dan Hughes and Pathways of Hope to construct shower facilities and lockers for local homeless people.

"I'm still working on that," said Thomas. "(Baxter) wanted me to spend the money already but I'm still in meetings with directors of these [Pathways]."

But Baxter isn't the only one who has expressed frustration with Thomas and the donations. Marlena Carrillo, a Fullerton resident who has been active in Kelly's Army since its inception and has worked for the KTMF, said concerns about the handling of the money have been bandied about for some time now.

"I started trying to figure how much KTMF has made, and we could never get a straight answer (from Thomas)," said Carrillo. "I kept asking him. That's why me and Ron had a falling out."

Carrillo added that Thomas blocked her and other members of Kelly's Army on Facebook and from the KTMF website.

The group was scheduled to meet in early August following the art show to account for the money collected. Carrillo says that unknown to many, Thomas had canceled the meeting, and several showed up any way.

"We were at the point where we had been working our asses off," said Carrillo. "We were supposed to be part of this board. When we called Ron to ask him about it, he just flipped, 'You hijacked my meeting.'"

But Thomas maintained there is no board and he alone is responsible for the foundation.

"These are people who are demanding that I bow to their every whim and demand, and I'm not going to do it," said Thomas. "I just don't see any reason for me to relinquish control of the foundation I started. They sit on the sidelines and badger me from their arm chairs until I do what they want."

Carrillo says this is a slap in the face.

"We protest in front of Fullerton police department every Saturday, this is what we do," she said. "For Ron Thomas to trash us when all we want to know where the money is frustrating. I don't want any more people getting suckered into KTMF when it's not being handled right."

Despite the bad blood, all parties say they will continue to seek justice for Kelly. Carrillo and others continue to protest in front of the police station on Saturdays demanding charges against a third officer, Joe Wolfe as well as the firing of the three other officers involved in the beating. This week, Thomas appeared at the city council as Hughes cleared his son of breaking into cars before officers beat him to death. 

In an email, a frustrated Baxter expressed sympathy for the many directions Thomas is being pulled.

"I knew Kelly (and) so did many others," wrote Baxter. "But it was Ron who Kelly turned to when he was being murdered. I don't forget that."

UPDATE, Sept, 22: The Weekly just received a call from Baxter, organizer of the Art With an Agenda. He said Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for Ron Thomas, just handed him a $3,120 check for Pathways of Hope. Baxter said the money will benefit homeless individuals in Fullerton.

"It means (Ron has) met his obligations," said Baxter, added that Mardirossian told him additional funds will be donated by his client.

Tensions arose between Baxter and Thomas over how the money raised by the art show would be spent. Baxter maintained that in promoting the show, he promised a certain portion would go to Fullerton charities. He attempted to get Thomas to sign a letter of agreement that the money would be donated within a specific time frame. 

Thomas, who refused to sign the agreement, told the Weekly yesterday he was working with city officials and Pathways of Hope to construct showers and lockers for Fullerton homeless, but that the process was still in the planning stages. 

Baxter said that despite the bad blood wrought by his disagreement with Thomas, he's still intent on seeing charges brought against former Fullerton Officer Joe Wolfe for his participation in the killing.

"If that means I need to occasionally be in contact with Ron, then so be it," said Baxter. "I'm trying hard not to judge him, he's a grieving father. I just know I made certain promises."

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