Sept. 21, 2011 Associated Press
Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic homeless man, died several days
after being beaten and electrocuted by six California police officers in
SANTA ANA, Calif. - Prosecutors charged one police officer with murder and
another with manslaughter Wednesday in the killing of a defenseless,
mentally ill homeless man who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser and
beaten with the butt of a stun gun.
Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with one count each of
second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of
37-year-old Kelly Thomas after a violent confrontation with officers on
July 5, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a news
Police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary
manslaughter and excessive force.
A review of the evidence showed Thomas was acting "in self-defense, in
pain and in a state of panic," Rackauckas said.
"His numerous pleas of `I'm sorry,' `I can't breathe,' `Help Dad' (were)
all to no avail. Screams, loud screams, didn't help," the prosecutor said.
Lorie Fridell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of
South Florida, said it is highly unusual for a police officer to be
charged with murder.
"It is quite appropriate in such cases to hold officers to account,"
Fridell said. "Often, however, prosecutors will give officers the benefit
of the doubt."
Five cops suspended after beating mentally-disabled homeless man to death
Citing unreleased city surveillance video and audio recordings, Rackauckas
said Thomas appeared to be cognitively impaired as officers approached
him. He was shirtless and wearing just a backpack as Ramos made a show of
putting on Latex gloves before ordering him to put his hands on his knees.
"He made two fists with his gloves on, two fists. He lifted his fists in
front of Kelly Thomas so he could see them and he said, `Now see my fists?
They are getting ready to (expletive) you up,"' Rackauckas said. "That's
when it went from a fairly routine investigation, a fairly routine police
detention, to an impending beating by an angry police officer."
Ramos allegedly swung his baton at Thomas but it was unclear if he hit
him. The prosecutor said Ramos then chased Thomas, eventually punching him
in his ribs and tackling him before holding down his neck and laying on
top of Thomas to pin him down.
The prosecutor said Cicinelli, who arrived on the scene later, kneed
Thomas twice in the head and used a Taser four times on Thomas as he
screamed and yelled in pain. Cicinelli hit Thomas in the face eight times
with the Taser, and Thomas didn't respond, Rackauckas said.
"When Kelly didn't scream in response to these blows it should have
indicated to Cicinelli that Kelly was down and seriously hurt," he said.
Rackauckas, a longtime prosecutor known for his strong backing of law
enforcement, said it was the first time he had filed charges against
police officers for excessive force leading to death.
"Police officers have a right to use reasonable force in the performance
of a lawful duty but citizens have a right to self-defense, even against
the police," he said.
Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, said he was pleased with the charges.
"That's exactly what I hoped for," he said in a phone interview. "It makes
me feel fantastic that this is happening, it's the justice we need."
Still, he said he suffers every day as a result of his son's death.
Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, said the charges were unfounded and
disputed Rackauckas' accounts of events. Thomas violently resisted arrest
by kicking and swinging at officers, he said, adding that he had seen the
same video cited by the prosecutor.
In response to claims that Ramos put on latex gloves and told Thomas he
was going to hurt him, Barnett characterized his client's attempt to get
compliance as "the lowest type of force."
"It was an attempt by the officer to use words not force to get the
suspect to do what he's supposed to do," Barnett said. "He sought to avoid
physical confrontation with words. There was no compliance by Mr. Thomas."
Bill Hadden, an attorney representing Cicinelli, didn't immediately return
a call for comment. A call to a home number for Ramos rang unanswered.
Arraignment was scheduled later Wednesday.
Six officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident
that occurred while police were investigating reported vehicle break-ins
at a transit hub. The other officers were not charged Wednesday and were
not expected to be charged.
Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life
support five days after the incident.
Thomas suffered from schizophrenia and lived on the streets even though he
received support from family and friends.
Police said Thomas ran when officers tried to search his bag and a
struggle followed when they tried to arrest him for investigation of
possession of stolen goods.
Family wants answers in death of man beaten by cops
Video from a bystander's cell phone taken from a distance showed parts of
the bloody encounter in which Thomas can be heard screaming for his
Surveillance video aboard a bus showed agitated passengers telling the
driver that officers beat and repeatedly used a stun gun during the
After the incident, the police chief went on medical leave and the
embattled City Council hired a law enforcement expert to investigate
Police Department practices.
Incensed community members held demonstrations and started an effort to
recall the mayor and two councilmembers over the incident.
Ron Thomas filed a claim seeking damages from the city.
He has previously released his son's medical records showing Thomas
suffered broken bones in his face, choked on his own blood and was
repeatedly shocked with two stun guns.
News reports indicate Cicinelli left the Los Angeles Police Department
after losing an eye in 1996 while working as a probationary officer.
Cicinelli, who was 25 at the time, was shot during an on-duty gunfight
during a traffic stop less than three weeks after graduating from the
Police Academy, according to a 1997 article in the Los Angeles Times.
If convicted of all charges, Ramos could face a maximum sentence of 15
years to life in prison. Cicinelli could face a maximum sentence of four
years if convicted.