Third Fullerton Officer Faces Charges in Kelly Thomas Case

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A third former Fullerton police officer was arraigned Thursday on felony charges related to the fatal beating of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.

The Orange County district attorney charged Joseph Wolfe, 37, with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of excessive use of force. If convicted, Wolfe faces a maximum of four years in prison. He’s scheduled for a pretrial hearing Nov. 2.

Thomas, 37, died July 10, 2011, of suffocation and other injuries suffered five days earlier when he was beaten by six officers at the Fullerton bus station.

Two former officers, Manuel Ramos, 38, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, are scheduled for a trial-setting conference Nov. 30.

Ramos is accused of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he faces 15 years to life in prison. He’s free on $1 million bail.

Cicinelli, like Wolfe, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. He and Wolfe each are free on $25,000 bail.

Wolfe and Cicinelli each were with the Fullerton Police Department for 12 years and Ramos for 10 years. They left the department as a result of the beating, which took place on July 5, 2011.

That evening, a worker at a bar near the bus station called police and reported Thomas was testing the handles of cars in the parking lot.

Six officers responded to the call and ended up surrounding Thomas. Ramos, according to Rackauckas, instigated the contact that eventually led to the fatal beating.

Audio and video complied by DA investigators shows much of the encounter between officers and Thomas, including portions of the beating.

Among other things, according Thursday’s news release, “Wolfe is accused of tackling Thomas to the ground with Ramos, kneeing and punching Thomas, and using his body weight to minimize Thomas’ movement as other officers arrived.”

Rackauckas said in the release that no charges were filed against the other three officers “due to a lack of evidence.”

“The Orange County Grand Jury heard testimony from 10 witnesses and examined 113 exhibits of evidence over three days beginning Sept. 19, 2012, before returning an indictment on Sept. 24, 2012,” according to the news release.

Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas’ father, said he had no immediate comment but would hold a news conference Friday.

The Kelly Thomas case has drawn widespread attention to the issues of homelessness and mental illness. Kelly Thomas suffered from untreated schizophrenia.

In June, three of the city’s five City Council members were recalled, in part because critics said they failed to act decisively in dealing the the police following Kelly Thomas’ death. A report by outside investigator Michael Gennaco, hired by the city to evaluate the police department, determined that at the time Kelly Thomas died, the department had a “culture of complacency.”

— TRACY WOOD

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