Reginald Thomas, Jr., 36, died in a struggle with six police officers at his own home in Pasadena, California, in the early hours of Friday morning, September 30. The exact cause of his death has not yet been released, nor have Pasadena police released his name. He was identified by his girlfriend, who is pregnant with his child. His death set off protests in the streets of Pasadena on Friday, protests that tied up traffic but remained largely peaceful as marchers called for a full investigation into how Thomas died, and the names of the officers who may have played a part in his death. Those names have not been made public at this point, either.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. He Was the Father of 8 Children
Thomas was the dad of eight kids, with a ninth child on the way, according to what Shainie Lindsay, who said she was his pregnant girlfriend, told KTLA News in Los Angeles. Lindsay said that in addition to the child yet to be born, she was the mother of four children by Thomas.
“He was a good father, and they didn’t have to kill him,” she told reporters. “He didn’t want to die.”
“That man took care of his children,” another friend of Thomas, Oscar Bell Jr., told the Pasadena Star-News. “He loved his kids. They took a good person away from his family. The police know what they did. It’s going to be hard for me to look at his children. They’re not going to get away with this one.”
Other friends and acquaintances painted a picture of a devoted stay-at-home dad who grew up in Pasadena, but who also dealt with his own heartbreaking personal issues.
“He was a cool person. He was calm. He just stayed to himself and spent as much time with his kids,” said Elijah Floyd, who told the Star-News that his own kids live in the same apartment complex as Thomas. Floyd said that Thomas often took his children to church and played an active role in their lives.
“He was all for them,” said Forrest Elder, Lindsay’s brother. “They call him ‘daddy daycare.’”
2. He Suffered From Longtime Mental Illness, His Family Said
Lindsay said that Thomas was “dysfunctional” and that police knew about his mental illness — which she described as “bipolar” — due to his past encounters with authorities, caused by his disorder.
“He called the police on himself. He wanted help,” she told KTLA. “They know he is on Social Security. They know he is 5150. This is not the first run-in with him.”
“5150” refers to the police code referencing a person who needs to be placed under psychiatric care.
Thomas had been “in and out of homes with medication,” Elder said to The Los Angeles Times.
Lindsay said that Thomas was “out if it,” experiencing some kind of a mental health episode, and needed help. She said that his impaired mental state was the reason that he did not comply with police orders when they arrived.
People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, according to a recent study by an advocacy group for mental illness sufferers. The study found that about 10 percent of all encounters with police involve a mentally ill person, and in one in four fatal confrontations with police officers, the victim is mentally ill — even though mentally illness sufferers generally have no greater propensity to violence than the population at-large.
According to the Washington Post database of police shootings, of 991 people shot dead by police in 2015, 251 showed signs of mental illness. That’s almost exactly 25 percent.
3. Police Released Surveillance Video of the Fatal Encounter, As Well As 911 Audio
In the Pasadena police account of events, a 911 call came in at approximately 2 a.m. on Friday morning reporting a domestic disturbance, but the caller gave no address. Using what they called “electronic means,” police were able to narrow the location of the call to a neighborhood at Fair Oaks Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena.
But a second call came in about 35 minutes later again reporting a disturbance and saying that a man was holding a knife — though under his arm, not in an overtly threatening manner — and carrying a fire extinguisher at 252 East Orange Grove.
In addition to the surveillance video, above, police also released audio of the 911 calls.
Six officers showed up at the apartment complex and after tasering Thomas, police fought with him. Two officers were injured in the struggle. But somehow, Thomas ended up dead.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement.
“The officers gave verbal commands for the male to drop both items. The male did not comply, at which time a taser was deployed, causing the male to drop the items. 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.
“Pasadena officers got into a physical struggle with the male, where he still continued to be uncooperative. The officers applied a hobble restraint around the male’s feet, in order to control his legs. The male was then taken into custody.
“While in custody the suspect went into distress, and stopped breathing. Pasadena officers immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until Pasadena Fire/Paramedics arrived. Paramedics continued CPR until the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.”
The officers were not wearing body cameras, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Captain Steve Katz.
4. His Girlfriend Says Police Beat Thomas
Lindsay said that the reason Thomas failed to comply with police commands was that “he was just out if it, basically.” She says that she woke up in the night to what she called “a bad dream,” finding Thomas “out of it” so she called police for help.
Lindsay said that Thomas did drop the fire extinguisher and the knife, but when he went back inside his apartment and slammed the door, officers forced their way in and used force to subdue him — kicking him and striking hm with their batons after shooting him twice with a stun gun.
“They was wrestling with him, kicking him in the head and beating him with the baton stick,” Lindsay told KTLA. “Then, after that, they was doing CPR and then he was dead.”
Police did not fire guns in the encounter.
Katz said he could not confirm whether the officers struck Thomas with batons.
5. The Death of Thomas Set Off Protests in Pasadena Friday
Because officers either knew of or should have known about Thomas’s mental condition, his children’s uncle told The Los Angeles Times, they should have known there was no need for violence. Elder said he believed that the fact that Thomas was African-American played a major role in his death while struggling with police officers.
“A black man with a match gets shot,” Elder said.
At least 100 protesters on Friday took to the streets of Pasadena, a city of about 140,000 whose population is 13.4 percent black.
“Remember, not all black men are suicidal or homicidal,” local activist and Black Lives Matter member Jasmine Richards said at an impromptu gathering outside the Orange Grove Gardens apartment complex, where Thomas died. “He called for help. JR was killed in front of his family. That man had eight children.”
She told the protesters, “We are here because they have declared war on us.”
Protesters later gathered at the apartment around 7 p.m. where they held a candlelight prayer vigil for Thomas.