Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas Wednesday leveled murder, manslaughter and felony excessive force charges against two Fullerton police officers in the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.
Rackauckas charged Officer Manuel Ramos with second-degree murder and manslaughter. He charged Cpl. Jay Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force. Ramos faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison, and Cicinelli could be sentenced to as long as four years.
Rackauckas said Ramos initiated the brutal beating of Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic, on July 5. Cicinelli, Rackauckas said, later joined Ramos in the beating. The two officers held Thomas down and repeatedly beat him and used a stun gun on him while he begged for mercy, Rackauckas said.
Four other officers at the scene were not charged with any wrongdoing. Rackauckas said the others were not charged because there was no evidence that they participated in the beating.
The other officers involved were Officer Joseph Wolfe, Officer Kenton Hampton, Sgt. Kevin Craig and Cpl. James Blatney.
Thomas died of his injuries on July 10. The coroner ruled the death a homicide. Rackauckas said Thomas essentially died of asphyxiation caused by excessive pressure applied by the officers to his chest and repeated beatings to his head.
“The biggest shame about this case is it didn’t have to happen,” said an emotional Rackauckas during a late-morning press conference at his office in Santa Ana. “This is not “protecting’ and ‘serving.’ “
Ramos, who knew Thomas was schizophrenic from prior contact, confronted Thomas at the Fullerton bus depot, Rackauckas said. Thomas was shirtless, wore a backpack and showed no signs of having a weapon, said the DA.
While Wolfe took the backpack to a different part of the parking lot and began to inspect it, Thomas and Ramos were alone, Rackauckas said. Ramos told Thomas to sit down and put his hands on his knees, and Thomas, who had no drugs or alcohol in his system, became confused, the DA said.
“It would have been obvious to any reasonable observer that Kelly Thomas had difficulty following Ramos’ instructions,” Rackauckas said.
Ramos soon began threatening Thomas, telling him that he was getting ready to “f*** you up,” Rackauckas said. “Ramos said this while putting on a pair of latex gloves and raising his fist in a menacing manner,” Rackauckas said.
Thomas, who “had a reasonable fear for his life,” then tried to escape from Ramos, and that was when the beating began, Rackauckas said.
“Ramos had to know that he was creating a situation where Kelly Thomas feared for his life and was struggling to get away from an armed police officer,” Rackauckas said. “Ramos had to know other officers would come to his aid and Kelly Thomas was going to get hurt, badly hurt.”
When the other officers arrived, Ramos was already beating Thomas. Cicinelli joined in the beating, shooting Thomas with a stun gun four times and then hitting him with the weapon, Rackauckas said.
The beating lasted for nine minutes and forty seconds, according to a report issued by Rackauckas’ office.
“Thomas screamed ‘I can’t breathe,’ ‘help, Dad’ … all to no avail,” Rackauckas said.
The DA’s report stated that “throughout the struggle, Thomas’ actions were defensive in nature and motivated by pain and fear.”
The two officers will be arraigned Wednesday afternoon. Rackauckas is asking for $1 million bail for Ramos and $25,000 for Cincinelli.
Cheers from Thomas’ supporters, who gathered outside the DA’s office, could be heard from inside the press conference.
This is the only time in Rackauckas’ decade-long tenure that he has charged an on-duty police officer with murder.