Ex-Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were
found not guilty of all charges linked to the death of 37-year-old
Kelly Thomas following a month-long trial, according to a
spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for less than two days
before returning the verdicts in a packed Santa Ana, California,
Orange County Sheriff's deputies cruised the streets surrounding the
courthouse in Santa Ana in patrol cars and motorcycles as about 50
protesters gathered outside. A helicopter hovered overhead as the
verdict was read.
No incidents were reported by early evening, and jurors left the
courthouse following the verdict without speaking to reporters.
Prosecutors had accused the two officers, who approached Thomas near
a bus depot in July 2011 to question him about reports of vandalized
cars, of turning a routine police encounter into an unnecessary and
savage beating that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.
Attorneys for Ramos and Cicinelli argued that Thomas was dangerous
and that the officers responded according to their training. Defense
lawyers also said Thomas suffered from a weakened heart brought on
by drug abuse.
"These peace officers were doing their jobs, operating as they were
trained," said John Barnett, who represented Ramos. "There was no
malice in their hearts that night."
Ramos, 39, was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary
manslaughter in the case. Cicinelli, a 41-year-old ex-corporal, was
charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
"I'm just so frustrated. So disgusted. It's horrible, just
horrible," Thomas' father, Ron, said immediately following the
Protesters quickly gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying
signs that read, "Police the Police" and "No More Killer Cops."
Drivers honked their horns in support as they passed on nearby
"THEY'RE KILLING ME"
"We respect the jury's verdict, and appreciate the consideration the
jury gave to the evidence. We understand that there may be a wide
variety of reactions to the verdict and encourage anybody who wishes
to express their feelings to do so respectfully," Fullerton Police
Chief Dan Hughes said.
The confrontation between six Fullerton police officers and Thomas
was captured by a surveillance camera at the bus station and led to
demonstrations in the community, as well as the ouster of three city
council members in a recall election.
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On the videotape, Ramos is seen strapping gloves on his hands,
balling them into fists in Thomas's face and telling Thomas, whom he
knew from previous encounters: "You see these fists? They are
getting ready to f--- you up."
Near the end of the tape, Thomas can be heard screaming for help as
police officers swarm over him, delivering multiple blows and shocks
with a stun gun. At one point he can be heard calling for his father
to help him, yelling: "Daddy, they're killing me."
Ex-Fullerton police officer Thomas Wolfe was also indicted on
charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in
the case in September and was awaiting trial.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said after the
acquittals that charges against Wolfe would now likely be dropped.
Three other officers involved in the confrontation with Thomas have
not been charged.
Rackauckas had asked jurors to speak as the voice and conscious of
the community and "send a message" by convicting the officers.
"He felt like he went before a jury and the jury has spoken. He's
obviously disappointed in the verdict and his heart goes out to Ron
and Cathy Thomas," a spokeswoman for Rackauckas said. "He thought it
was a fair trial and that under the same circumstances he'd have
brought the same charges."
In 2012, Fullerton's acting chief of police posthumously exonerated
Thomas of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation,
saying he was cleared of any suspicion that he provoked the violent
struggle that led to his death.
The city has also agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas's mother in a
negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her
son's death. Thomas's father filed a separate lawsuit on the
one-year anniversary of the beating.
(Reporting by Dana Feldman and Dan Whitcomb;
writing by Dan Whitcomb
and Sharon Bernstein; editing by Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Shumaker,
Cynthia Osterman, Eric Walsh and Ken Wills)
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