Cops Charged In Homeless Murder

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Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 10:28am

Two Fullerton, California officers are accused of beating a mentally ill homeless man to death.

Two California police officers are facing charges following the beating death of a homeless man.

Officer Manuel Ramos made a "declaration of violence" and set in motion a chain of events July 5 that led to the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, according to the Orange County District Attorney.

Ramos will face second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Thomas, who died five days after the altercation with Ramos and five other officers at a Fullerton bus depot.

Ramos faces up to life in prison, if convicted.

Officer Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.

He was released on $25,000 bail.

"I didn't expect this," Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, said after Wednesday's announcement. "I am elated. This is really what I wanted, at least two of them."

The defendants surrendered Wednesday morning to Orange County authorities.

Ramos' arraignment was postponed until Monday.

Cicinelli pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon.

Bail was set at $1 million for Ramos.

He is the first officer charged with murder in the history of the Fullerton police department.

"The Fullerton Police Department will continue to cooperate with the Orange County District Attorney's office in their investigation," said acting Fullerton Chief of Police, Capt. Kevin Hamilton, at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Four other officers involved in the arrest were not charged.

"The rest of the police officers who arrived at the scene arrived in response to the calls for assistance," Rackauckas said. "The evidence does not show any participation in an unlawful act on the part of these officers."

The evidence includes video from cell phones, surveillance video from the bus depot, on-board bus videos, 151 witness account, police reports from all the officers involved, medical reports, an examination of physical evidence, such as batons and stun guns used in the beating, and audio recordings, Rackauckas said.

The audio recordings included the officers' DARs -- digital audio recorders. Investigators said they synched the audio with video from the bus depot surveillance video.

After encountering Thomas at the bus depot, Ramos swung his baton at Thomas, but it was unclear whether he struck him, the DA said.

The officer then chased Thomas, tackled him and punched him in the ribs, Rackauckas added.

Cicinelli arrived later and kneed Thomas twice in the head, according to the DA.

He used a stun gun four times on Thomas and struck him in the face eight times with the stun gun, Rackauckas said.

Thomas tried to defend himself and cried out several times.

At one point, he screamed for his father during the altercation, Rackauckas said.

"His numerous pleas of 'I'm sorry,' 'I can't breathe,' 'Help, Dad' were all to no avail," he said.

Kelly Thomas was hospitalized after the beating, but removed from life support five days later.

The six officers involved in the arrest were placed on administrative leave.

The announcement came one day after another in a series of contentious Fullerton City Council meetings.

Tuesday's meeting included a shouting match that involved the mayor and attendees.

The case prompted outrage, protests, heated city council meetings and a recall effort in the weeks after Thomas' death.

The FBI is investigating whether Kelly Thomas' civil rights were violated, and the city hired an independent investigator to conduct a review of the arrest.

Thomas' father, a former sheriff's deputy who served in the Army, and mother filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against Fullerton.
 

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