Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg has turned down a request by defense lawyers to dismiss involuntary manslaughter and other felony charges against two Fullerton police officers in the July 2011 beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.
“It’s the Court’s tentative decision to deny each defendant’s motion to dismiss,” Froeberg wrote in his Jan. 4 opinion, which was made public Friday and distributed to news organizations by Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas.
The issue will come up again Jan. 18 during a hearing in Froeberg’s courtroom.
Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of the 39-year-old Thomas at the Fullerton bus station. In addition, Ramos is accused of second-degree murder and Cicinelli is charged with assault and battery under color of authority. Both officers pleaded not guilty.
In denying the motion to dismiss, Froeberg’s 11-page decision decares it was Ramos, not Thomas, who “became aggressive.”
Referring to a video of the encounter between the officers and Thomas, Froeberg said “for the first 16 minutes of the encounter Mr. Thomas was passive and compliant; he made no threats to any officer.”
But, he wrote, Ramos “ultimately said to Mr. Thomas, “Now you see my fists? They’re getting ready to f*** you up.” Within a few seconds Mr. Thomas stood up, causing Officer Ramos and Officer [Joseph] Wolfe to strike him with their batons. In response, Mr. Thomas began to run but did not get far; he was taken to the ground by Officer Ramos and Officer Wolfe. It does not appear from the recording that there was any justification for the use of deadly force.”
Wolfe, the third officer in the case, was charged in November with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of excessive use of force. His case was not part of the motion to dismiss that was before Froeberg.
The judge noted it will be up to a trial to determine the guilt or innocence of Ramos and Cicinelli, but in his decision on the motion to dismiss charges he wrote:
It can be reasonable inferred from that evidence [the video and preliminary hearing medical testimony] that by pinning Mr. Thomas to the ground for a substantial period of time, Officer Ramos contributed to the death of Kelly Thomas by cutting off the oxygen supply to his brain. It is also reasonable to infer that Officer Cicinelli’s use of the Taser gun also contributed to the death of Kelly Thomas by inflicting the injuries to Mr. Thomas’ face that led to aspiration of blood thereby inhibiting oxygen flow to the heart and brain. Both officers’ use of force could be determined to be proximate causes of the death of Kelly Thomas.
In addition, Froeberg left it to the trial to decide whether Ramos is guilty of second degree murder. He wrote:
The following evidence presented at the preliminary hearing supports a finding of implied malice: A) For no readily apparent or logical reason, Officer Ramos threatened to “f*** up” Mr. Thomas. B) Officer Ramos, with no apparent reasonable cause to believe Mr. Thomas was a danger to himself or to anyone else began striking Mr. Thomas with his baton. C) Officer Ramos continued to compress Mr. Thomas’ chest even though Mr. Thomas stated 9 times that he could not breathe. D) Officer Ramos failed to render aid to his arrestee, an obviously unconscious person who he had helped render unconscious.
A medical degree is not required to know that suffocating someone will kill them.