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Civil lawsuit alleges false police report in beating death of homeless man

June 13, 2012 | By Michael Martinez, CNN

The police beating of a California homeless man has spawned a civil lawsuit in which a bar doorman claims he was fired after he cooperated with investigators and claimed his manager made a false report to police about the homeless man's activities.

Michael Reeves, who also worked as a security guard, is suing his former employer, the Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen in Fullerton, California, for more than $4 million, according to the lawsuit.

Eric Dubin, attorney for Slidebar and Jeremy Popoff, who's listed in state records as president of Slidebar Inc. that owns the establishment, said Reeves' claims are "completely false and fabricated."

Reeves "was simply fired for getting confrontational with a manager after he let girls in a side door," Dubin said in an e-mail to CNN. "He never mentioned any of these alleged claims to (the) DA when interviewed, during his sworn employment hearings for unemployment, nor in his signed termination papers last year."

Popoff, who's also a guitarist and singer in the rock band Lit, is about to release an album, and the "bogus" lawsuit was timed to that release, Dubin charged.

"We will fight this with everything we have," Dubin said.

According to the suit, Reeves' manager called police on July 5, 2011, to falsely report that "Kelly Thomas is in the parking lot breaking into cars."

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Thomas, 37, a homeless man with schizophrenia, was severely beaten by Fullerton police and he later died in the hospital. In connection with his death, 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.

On Wednesday, Reeves issued a statement in which he stated that "a Slidebar manager called Fullerton Police and I heard her report that Kelly Thomas was in the parking lot breaking into cars.


"I knew her report to be false. I complained about that false report that night to my manager and continued to complain about the false report until the date I was terminated, on September 23, 2011," said Reeves, who was hired in March 2010.

Reeves said in the lawsuit that Thomas wasn't breaking into cars but rather was in a parking lot picking up cigarette butts.

Reeves refused to adopt his employer's "false mantra that 'Slidebar had nothing to do with Kelly Thomas' death,' " said the lawsuit, filed last week.

When managers realized "that they, too, could face legal consequences for their involvement, not to mention the harm it would cause to Slidebar's and (its owners') images, they decided to terminate Mr. Reeves to keep him and law enforcement investigators as far away from Slidebar as possible," the lawsuit said.

Reeves was terminated two days after prosecutors announced they were pursuing criminal charges against Fullerton police officers, the lawsuit said.

According to a review of the Thomas incident by an independent consultant hired by the Fullerton City Council, police received a call from a woman who referred to Thomas as "Kelly" and said he was "roaming the parking lot," "looking in cars," "pulling on handles," and "pacing through the cars and between each car," the consultant's report said.

The Orange County District Attorney's office wasn't commenting Wednesday on the civil suit's accusation of a false police report, a spokeswoman said.

"Just in general, we don't comment on investigations," chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder of the district attorney's office told CNN.

The Slidebar website says the independently owned and operated establishment offers food, drinks and live music.

"We pride ourselves in offering a cool environment, free from idiots. So don't act like one, or you will be asked to leave -- very politely of course. Have fun, rock on, be yourself ... just be cool," the website says.


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