Police Officer Pleads Not Guilty to Murder of Kelly Thomas

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Monday, Sept. 26, 2011 | Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that he murdered a homeless man while on duty. His attorney argued that Ramos acted entirely within department policy and did not commit a crime.

Ramos wore an orange jumpsuit and sat inside a metal cage during his arraignment hearing in front of Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh. Larsh granted District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ request that Ramos’ bail be set at $1 million and ordered him sent to the city jail in Santa Ana.

Rackauckas last week charged Ramos, 37, with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of Kelly Thomas at the Fullerton bus depot.

Rackauckas said that on the evening of July 5, Ramos approached Thomas, whom he knew to be homeless and mentally ill. Ramos and other officers beat the 37-year-old transient for nearly 10 minutes, Racuackas said. Thomas died of his injuries on July 10.

Joining Ramos in the beating, according to Rackauckas, was Cpl. Jay Cicinelli. He was arraigned Sept. 21 on charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony excessive force and released on $25,000 bail. Four other officers were at the scene but were not charged with a crime.

Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, argued that bail should be lowered for his client because his deep roots in the area, including three young sons, prevented him from being a flight risk.

But Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, told the judge that he feared for his safety because of “the brutal method of this cold-blooded killer.”

At a news conference after the hearing, Barnett told reporters that Kelly Thomas was solely responsible for Ramos’ use of deadly force and that the officer acted appropriately.

“My client was confronted with an individual who would not obey lawful commands,” he said. “My client’s reaction was per policy, within policy, and certainly no crime. … He did not kill Kelly Thomas.”

Barnett, who defended one of the officers in the Rodney King beating case, added that on the night of the incident Ramos was faced with a “violent felon” who had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and whose mother obtained a restraining order against him one year before the incident.

When Rackauckas announced the charges against Ramos last week, he said it was clear Thomas did not fully understand Ramos’ commands and begged for mercy throughout the lengthy beating.

On Monday, Rackauckas said he was confident that he will win a conviction. “I would not have filed the case had I not believed we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

While acknowledging that his son was convicted of the assault charge, Ron Thomas dismissed the suggestion that his son was a violent person.

“He has to portray this horrible image of my son,” said Thomas. “I’ve never been in fear of my son in my life.”

Nick Gerda is a Voice of OC intern. You can reach him directly at ngerda@gmail.com


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