Fullerton Officers Plead Not Guilty in Thomas Beating Case

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Two Fullerton police officers pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and manslaughter charges stemming from their roles in the 2011 beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.

Officer Manual Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli are scheduled to appear July 27 before Orange County Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg for a trial date to be set, but that likely will be delayed if defense attorneys request time to argue that the case should be dismissed.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Ramos with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the July 10, 2011, death of Thomas, 37, who suffered from untreated schizophrenia.

Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Defense attorney Case C. Barnett, one of the lawyers representing officer Manual Ramos, said after Friday’s hearing that a motion will be filed later this month to dismiss the case on the ground that insufficient evidence was presented at a preliminary hearing to require Ramos to stand trial.

Rackauckas told reporters it could be six to eight months before the trial actually begins. When it starts, he said, he expects it to last six to eight weeks after a jury is selected.

Asked if he was concerned the case will fade from public memory—and the memory of potential jurors—by the time the trial begins, Rackauckas said, “I don’t think people are going to forget any of this.”

He referred to a video his office produced from a police camera’s view of the Thomas beating at the Fullerton Transportation Center and audio from recorders worn by officers.

“I don’t see how you can watch it without having a very strong human reaction,” Rackauckas said.

Ramos left the Fullerton Police Department July 2, but the five other officers involved in the beating, including Cicinelli, remain on unpaid leave while disciplinary actions are being determined. Cicinelli and Ramos are out of jail on bond.

“While we cannot comment as to the specifics of any personnel matter, I can confirm that Officer Ramos is no longer an employee of the Fullerton Police Department, effective July 3, 2012,” stated acting Police Chief Dan Hughes in a news release earlier this week.

The beating of Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011, and his death five days later ultimately resulted in the retirement of Police Chief Michael Sellers and the recall of three of five Fullerton City Council members. The council majority was accused of not acting decisively in the weeks following Thomas’ death.

According to the autopsy results, Kelly Thomas had no drugs or alcohol in his system and had no weapon. He died of suffocation and blood from head injuries draining into his lungs.

Thomas’ death drew widespread attention to two significant social problems: untreated mental illness among homeless adults and a growing attention to police use of excessive force in dealing with unarmed civilians.

In the past few months, the Los Angeles Times has reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department faced accusations of brutality by deputies against inmates in its jails and that shootings of civilians by Los Angeles police officers has soared.

Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, filed suit against the city of Fullerton July 5 on the one-year anniversary of his son’s beating and raised the issue of seven prior cases in recent years which he said should have alerted the department to problems within the force.

Thomas’ mother, Cathy Thomas, has settled with the city for $1 million. She and Ron Thomas are divorced.

Rackauckas told reporters Thursday that his office is continuing to investigate to determine whether other officers should be charged in connection with Thomas’ death.

Ron Thomas said he believes charges ultimately will be filed against a third officer he identified as Joseph Wolfe, one of the six policemen who took part in the beating of his son.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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