Pasadena police used excessive force in man's death, family attorney says

- An attorney for the family of a man who died following a struggle with Pasadena police, who twice used a Taser on him, blasted officers for using what she called excessive force even though they did not fire their weapons.

"Just because Pasadena police says we used less lethal force does not mean they did not use excessive force,'' attorney Caree Harper said at a news conference outside police headquarters.

Harper was surrounded by relatives of 36-year-old Reginald "J.R.'' Thomas, who was described as mentally unstable by his girlfriend and died after the early Friday morning confrontation at an apartment complex in the 200 block of East Orange Grove Boulevard.

Thomas had eight children and one on the way, according to his pregnant girlfriend.

His death sparked anger among some residents who gathered at the scene Friday demanding more information and confronting a sheriff's official who arrived to brief reporters. A crowd of around 100 people marched Friday night in protest of Thomas' death. The group started at the shooting scene, then made its way to police headquarters at 207 Garfield Ave. before proceeding through the city's Old Town.

No arrests were reported.

Harper alleged that officers hit and kicked Thomas while he was restrained -- something police have denied.

"Hands-on (force) can be just as lethal as a bullet,'' she said. "A boot to the head can be just like a bullet to the head if you keep kicking the man when he's down. They should have let the man live. And we're here to ask you to keep that theory in the media's eyes.''

Harper said the family plans to file a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, wrongful death and excessive force. She suggested officers should have contained Thomas in some way and given him time to calm down before engaging in a struggle.

According to police, officers received a call at 2:20 a.m. Friday "regarding a domestic disturbance with a suspect at the location armed with a knife.''

In the 911 call made public over the weekend, the caller, who is believed to be Thomas' brother, tells a police dispatcher Thomas was armed with a knife and acting strangely but had not threatened anyone.

When the dispatcher asked if the suspect had any mental illnesses, the caller replied that he didn't know. The dispatcher also asked if the suspect was on drugs and the caller replied that he was.

The sheriff's department, which is assisting in the investigation, reported that when officers arrived, the man had a large knife under his left arm and a fire extinguisher in his right hand, and he refused orders to drop both.

A Taser was deployed, causing Thomas to drop both items, according to the sheriff's department.

"The male was still not cooperative with the verbal commands given by the officers, and a second Taser was deployed, which seemed to have little effect on the male,'' according to Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the Sheriff's
Information Bureau.

In the ensuing struggle with officers, Thomas continued to be uncooperative, Rouzan said.

"The officers applied a hobble restraint around the male's feet, in order to control his legs,'' according to the deputy. "The male was then taken into custody.''

While in custody, Thomas "went into distress and stopped breathing,'' Rouzan said.

Officers started CPR, which was continued by arriving paramedics, who eventually pronounced the man dead at the scene, according to Rouzan.

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