On July 5th, a thirty-seven year old homeless man from Santa Ana named Kelly Thomas, arrived at the UC Irvine Medical Center comatose, with multiple organ failure, multiple fractures to his face and ribs and having suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest, based on an evaluation by a trauma surgeon. He died five days later. Two Fullerton police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, were found responsible for Thomas’s death.
Thomas was a homeless man in Santa Ana that suffered from schizophrenia. He has had previous encounters with the cops but for nothing violent. On the night of the incident, Fullerton Police Officers Ramos and Cicinelli were dispatched for the possibility of a man breaking into vehicles in the parking lot of the Fullerton transit center.
The confrontation between Thomas and the officers was captured in the thirty-three minute surveillance video in the parking lot and recorded audio from devices worn by the officers.
Warning: The footage in this video is graphic:
Ramos explicitly states how his fists, “are going to **** you up.” Frightening Thomas, he attempts to run away from the officers but is overtaken. Their confrontation turns into a physical struggle and brutal beating. Cicinelli strikes Thomas eight times in the face and head with a stun gun and continued to stun him repeatedly. During the incident, Thomas apologizes and screams for help, crying for his father. As the video is shown during Ramos and Cicinelli’s trial, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas states to the audience, “you realized that what you’re watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of the police. You’re watching a homicide.” In addition to Ramos and Cicinelli, four other Fullerton police officers were involved in this case.
As a defense, starvation and former drug abuse by Thomas have been brought to the table. However, according to an expert witness, Thomas had healthy, functioning organs that could not have been the cause of his death. The coroner identifies the cause of death as asphyxiation, caused by the officers piling on his chest during the struggle.
This incident has led dozens of activist tor rise up in Orange County in support of Kelly Thomas, calling themselves “Kelly’s Army.” It has also led to the recall of three city council members and the departure of the police chief. Many were present during the days of the trial wearing yellow ribbons and buttons with Thomas’s image.
Upon reaching closing arguments on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 for Thomas’s trial, Ramos is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cicinelli is charged with involuntary man slaughter and excessive use of force for their role in the physical altercation. Their sentence is yet to be determined.
If you have experienced a dangerous encounter with a police official, you need to find a lawyer who will fight for your rights. Some officers will take advantage of their power when a defendant is unaware of their rights. Make sure that you have the best available representation.
UPDATE: February 13, 2014
Manuel Ramos, the officer largely viewed as having been responsible for Thomas’ death has been acquitted of second-degree murder.