Two police officers charged in the beating death of Kelly Thomas were found not guilty tonight. Charges against a third officer will be dropped.
Thomas, who was homeless and schizophrenic, was questioned by the officers on July 5, 2011, after they received a report of a man possibly trying to break into cars in a Fullerton, California parking lot. Footage from a security video (here, although I'll warn you right now it's brutal) shows Thomas, 37, not complying with officers' demands that he sit down and the officers growing impatient. Officer Manuel Ramos says "see my fists? They're getting ready to fuck you up if you don't fucking start listening." When Thomas tries to run away, they beat him, taser him, and can be heard giving orders to "choke him out," saying "I just smashed his face to hell" and complaining about all the blood on the scene. Thomas can be heard screaming for his father to help him, until he stops speaking altogether.
Thomas died five days later, after being removed from life support. The Orange County coroner's office ruled that the cause of death was lack of oxygen caused by a combination of chest compression and facial injuries. According to the Los Angeles Times, Thomas suffered "brain injuries, shattered facial bones, broken ribs and a crushed thorax." Ramos, who said the altercation was the "fight of his life," scraped his elbow and his knee.
Thomas' death spurred several rallies and gained nationwide attention. Ramos was eventually charged with second degree murder. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter, as he was the one who smashed Thomas' face to hell with the butt of his stun gun. A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter, though those charges will be dropped.
Attorneys for the officers, who no longer work for the Fullerton Police Department, said: "These peace officers were doing their jobs ... They were operating as they were trained, and they had no malice in their hearts."
Thomas' parents told reporters the men got away with murder.
"All of us need to be very afraid now," his father Ron Thomas, a former sheriff's deputy who has campaigned for justice for his son for over two years, said. "Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, whatever they want, but it has been proven right here today they'll get away with it."
The Fullerton police department says it has taken steps to prevent an incident like Thomas' death from happening again, like a clinician from the Orange County Mental Health Department riding along with officers when dealing with the homeless. Also, they'll get better at social media.
Rallies and vigils are currently being held in Fullerton:
Protest happening now: Fullerton Police Department, 237 West Commonwealth Ave. #OpFullerton— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) January 14, 2014
Kelly Thomas' mom, Cathy, hugging supporters at candlelight vigil at Fullerton Transit Center. pic.twitter.com/nN7fkGgdmY— Kacey Montoya (@kaceymontoya) January 14, 2014
According to the AP, when the verdict was read, Ramos "put his head down and rubbed his temples before turning to his supporters and winking."
Update, January 14 12:43 a.m.: While the state's case against Ramos and Cicinelli is over, federal charges are a possibility. Per KPCC's Ed Joyce, the FBI began investigating the case in 2011 to see if Thomas' civil rights were violated. An FBI spokeswoman told Joyce today: "With the conclusion of the state court trial, investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level."
According to the FBI, 42 percent of its civil rights cases in 2012 were on "color of law" matter, including:
Excessive force: In making arrests, maintaining order, and defending life, law enforcement officers are allowed to use whatever force is “reasonably” necessary. The breadth and scope of the use of force is vast—from just the physical presence of the officer…to the use of deadly force. Violations of federal law occur when it can be shown that the force used was willfully “unreasonable” or “excessive.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.