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Santa Ana, CA - 2 Police Officers Charged In Death of Homeless Man

Published on: September 21, 2011 07:55 PM
By: AP
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Attorneys Micheal Schwartz, center, and William Hadden, right, confer during the arraignment hearing for their client Fullerton police officer Jay Cicinelli, left, in  Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011  in Santa Ana, Calif.    Prosecutors charged one police officer with murder and another with manslaughter  in the killing of  37-year-old Kelly Thomas,  an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser and slammed with the butt of a stun gun in a beating that lasted nearly 10 minutes.  Manuel Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter .   Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (AP Photo/Paul Rodriguez)Attorneys Micheal Schwartz, center, and William Hadden, right, confer during the arraignment hearing for their client Fullerton police officer Jay Cicinelli, left, in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 in Santa Ana, Calif.  Prosecutors charged one police officer with murder and another with manslaughter in the killing of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas,  an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser and slammed with the butt of a stun gun in a beating that lasted nearly 10 minutes.  Manuel Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter .  Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (AP Photo/Paul Rodriguez)

Santa, CA - Prosecutors charged one police officer with murder and another with manslaughter Wednesday in the killing of an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser and slammed with the butt of a stun gun in a beating that lasted nearly 10 minutes.

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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 conference.

Police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

A review of the evidence, including audio from the officers’ body microphones and surveillance video, 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.”

Cicinelli pleaded not guilty Wednesday during his initial court appearance. He posted $25,000 bail and was scheduled to return to court in November.

Ramos did not enter a plea and was being held on $1 million bail. His arraignment was set for Monday.

Citing the 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 coroner listed the cause of death as mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen, Rackauckas said. Other injuries to the face and head contributed to the death, the prosecutor said.

Cicinelli, who arrived on the scene later, kneed Thomas twice in the head and used a Taser four times on him as he screamed and yelled in pain, Rackauckas said, adding that Cicinelli hit Thomas in the face eight times with the Taser, and Thomas didn’t respond.

“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, cheered as he watched the prosecutor’s news conference on TV with a group of supporters. He later 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.

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.

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 father.

Surveillance video aboard a bus showed agitated passengers telling the driver that officers beat and repeatedly used a stun gun during the arrest.

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.


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Read Comments (10)  —  Post Yours »

2

 Sep 21, 2011 at 08:45 PM Anonymous Says:

I give this DA credit for having the guts to take the cops on. Most prosecutors are intimidated of the PBA, or the FOP, and always side with the cops, right or wrong. Even when cops are placed on trial, juries in over 80% of the cases will not convict them. The exception was the 1997 incident in the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn, NY, where a cop was convicted of showing his baton up the private area of a security guard, in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct. The cop received 30 years, and is still behind bars; the victim received nearly $7,000,000 in a wrongful injury settlement. Another cop received a lesser sentence, and several more cops were thrown off the force for trying to cover the incident up. While there are many fine and dedicated cops, there are also sadistical ones.

3

 Sep 21, 2011 at 09:48 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

I give this DA credit for having the guts to take the cops on. Most prosecutors are intimidated of the PBA, or the FOP, and always side with the cops, right or wrong. Even when cops are placed on trial, juries in over 80% of the cases will not convict them. The exception was the 1997 incident in the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn, NY, where a cop was convicted of showing his baton up the private area of a security guard, in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct. The cop received 30 years, and is still behind bars; the victim received nearly $7,000,000 in a wrongful injury settlement. Another cop received a lesser sentence, and several more cops were thrown off the force for trying to cover the incident up. While there are many fine and dedicated cops, there are also sadistical ones.

It's "Shoving", as opposed to "Showing".

4

 Sep 21, 2011 at 10:10 PM Rut24 Says:

Where is justice????? That poor homeless man. At a job I had we were taught how to take down a person if their behavior got out of control in a safe way hopefully with no injuries. It wld be worth it if the police force used it. No weapons involved.

5

 Sep 22, 2011 at 12:15 AM jew-livingin-america Says:

I can't forget the day those cold blooded cops shot 38byllets and killed hiding bush on 46th street in notice park hope they go to justice one say too

6

 Sep 22, 2011 at 09:25 AM Billy Says:

Reply to #5  
jew-livingin-america Says:

I can't forget the day those cold blooded cops shot 38byllets and killed hiding bush on 46th street in notice park hope they go to justice one say too

What exactly are you talking about?

7

 Sep 22, 2011 at 09:34 AM enough Says:

Police officers put their lives on the line every day. We don't know the history behind this vagrant. Especially in California these creeps sleep and hang out around public places. Because of the politically correct atmosphere the police are not given authority to clean up the streets. How many times do we read about "transients" who murder and push people in front of subways--way too often. It's positively scary walking to shul in some parts of LA because of the rampant homeless. The father has time to come to trial. why didn't he take in his son?? Upside down world.

8

 Sep 22, 2011 at 10:52 AM Bezalel Says:

I'm surprised that no one has commented on the photo of the frum attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, representing the accused. His firm's website states that "[h]is practice focuses on defending public safety personnel facing criminal charges or serious allegations of administrative misconduct."

9

 Sep 22, 2011 at 11:33 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #8  
Bezalel Says:

I'm surprised that no one has commented on the photo of the frum attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, representing the accused. His firm's website states that "[h]is practice focuses on defending public safety personnel facing criminal charges or serious allegations of administrative misconduct."

I guess people are used to anything these days. Sign of the times, my friend.

10

 Sep 22, 2011 at 02:45 PM Anonymous Says:

Cops think they could do whatever they want and I feel bad for when they will meet the people in prison they put in there

11

 Sep 22, 2011 at 01:22 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #5  
jew-livingin-america Says:

I can't forget the day those cold blooded cops shot 38byllets and killed hiding bush on 46th street in notice park hope they go to justice one say too

They killed a hiding bush? Maybe they overreacted, but whay was that bush hiding from the police in the first place?

12

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