PASADENA — Attorney Caree Harper gathered family members of Reginald “J.R.” Thomas Jr. in front of microphones outside of the Pasadena Police Department Oct. 3.
Thomas’ children and other members of his family, his six months’ pregnant girlfriend and the woman he called “Mama” all wore T-shirts with a picture of Thomas on the front, holding an infant and smiling.
Harper said eyewitnesses at the scene told her two Pasadena police Taser shots dropped Thomas to the ground but that kicks about the head and blows from a baton ultimately killed him Sept. 30.
“Can we please give our black men a chance to live before we execute them on the scene?” Harper asked “That’s all we’re asking.”
Harper said Thomas suffered from mental health challenges and that he had called police to help him, as he has done on a number of other occasions. She says this time, when police arrived, they used excessive force, killing him.
“We’re not going to portray him like an angel, but we’re not going to stand by while anyone portrays him as a demon,” Harper said. “He was not, he was a good man and a father, and a loved relative.”
“Pasadena PD has a long history of having a heavy hand, especially when it comes to the black community,” Harper added. “They’ve been riding rough for a long time. They need to be held accountable. We’re not going to sit back and wait for them to give us answers. We’re going to be aggressive and pursue answers and we will have justice for JR period.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is helping Pasadena police with the investigation into the death of Thomas, say that when Pasadena police officers arrived on the scene they found Thomas with a large knife under his left arm and a fire extinguisher in his right hand.
Investigators say the officers gave verbal commands for Thomas to drop the items, but that he didn’t comply. They Tasered him twice, but say that had little effect on Thomas.
Police say the officers then physically struggled with Thomas, and applied a “hobble restraint,” commonly known as a hog tie, around his feet to control his legs, then took him into custody, after which he became distressed and stopped breathing.
Investigators say officers perfromed CPR on Thomas until paramedics arrived, who also did CPR, but ultimately had to pronounce him dead at the scene.
Harper, a former police officer, said the Sheriff’s Department is covering for their “brothers in arms” by leaving out the part where officers responding to the call piled on top of Thomas, kicking and beating him. She said police and emergency crews should have continued CPR all the way to the hospital and let a licensed doctor pronounce him dead.
Instead, she said, they left his body in the apartment for hours and that his children and girlfriend had to step over his dead body to exit the building.
“They knew his name and they knew his status, why couldn’t you give him time and deescalate and just because [police say] we used less than lethal force, does not mean they did not use excessive force. Hands on can be just as lethal as a bullet. A boot to the head can be just like a bullet to the head if you keep kicking a man when he’s down.”
Harper, the attorney for the family of Kendrec McDade, who shot to death by Pasadena police officers in 2012, said she planned to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court this week. Family members at the news conference said they were frustrated and angry that their loved one was killed by police, and that Thomas had only called 911 because he was looking for help.
Harper also called for immediate drug testing of officers involved in these type of deaths. She said during the McDade case, in which she won a million dollar judgment for the teenager’s family, she said the officers may have been on drugs or steroids, and that testing would let everyone know for sure.
Following the death of Thomas, Pasadena NAACP President Gary Moody wrote in the Pasadena Black Pages online newsmagazine that “Patience wears thin when confrontations turn deadly.”
Moody said there would be multiple versions of the deadly incidents, and that the Pasadena NAACP would check all resources to bring the truth to the neighborhood while continuing their fight for justice on all fronts.
As word spread of Thomas’ death, about 100 protesters took to the streets with signs telling police “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Lives Matter.” A small candlelight vigil outside of the apartment took place Oct. 3, showing a heart and the letters J.R. in lights.
Harper says Thomas’ children are traumatized and that they will receive grief counseling this week.