Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 | Last month when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas took the extremely rare step of filing murder and manslaughter charges against two police officers, he described in great detail the officers’ actions.
Rackauckas said that for nearly 10 minutes the Fullerton officers smothered and beat Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill transient who pleaded for mercy. Thomas was so severely injured he died five days later.
Supporters of the Thomas family and the family’s lawyer, Garo Mardirossian, applauded Rackauckas’ actions against Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli but questioned why no charges were filed against any of the other four officers present during the beating.
Rackauckas, who so far has handled the case himself, noted during a news conference that three of the four — Officer Kenton Hampton, Sgt. Kevin Craig and Cpl. James Blatney — arrived after the beating had begun July 5 at the Fullerton bus station.
They didn’t know they were “assisting in the restraint of a victim who had been subjected to excessive force by other [Fullerton police] officers,” Ruckauckas said.
The fourth officer, Joseph Wolfe, wasn’t charged, Rackauckas said, because he didn’t know Ramos had instigated the fight and that Thomas was merely trying to defend himself.
Even so, argued many, the DA’s own report as well as videos from bystanders of the final 39 minutes and 55 seconds of Thomas’ conscious life show him screaming “I can’t breathe,” “I’m sorry, dude,” “Please,” “Okay, okay,” “Dad, dad,” and “Dad, help me.”
The report went on to assert that during the beating Thomas “was severely bleeding, but the officers did not reduce their level of force.”
Thomas slipped into a coma that night and died five days later on July 10. The coroner’s office concluded that Thomas suffocated from pressure on his chest and blood from head injuries entering his lungs.
Four of the six officers, including Ramos, had turned on their digital voice recorders, equipment that uniformed patrol officers in Fullerton have been required to use for about 10 years. Two officers, Cicinelli and Hampton, either didn’t have their recorders or didn’t turn them on.
Police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Goodrich said recorders are supposed to be turned on as soon as officers make contact with someone while on duty.
The following timeline compiled from the DA’s report and Fullerton Fire Department paramedic records details the arrival time and actions of each of the six officers. The information comes from officer recorders that were turned on, video from a police camera at the bus station, witness statements, and information from the fire department’s paramedic logs.
There is a 2-minute and 55-second difference between the DA’s report and the fire department records on when the paramedics arrived. The DA’s office did not return telephone calls seeking clarification of the time difference.
The following timeline begins at 8:23 p.m. with a telephone call to a police dispatcher and ends at 9:02:55 p.m. when paramedics reported they had arrived at the bus station.
The DA’s report notes “after paramedics arrived, Cicinelli is accused of commenting about his use of force and the physical damage to Thomas.”
Minutes 1 to 10
8:23 p.m.: A Fullerton Police Department dispatcher received a telephone call, according to the DA’s report, that said a “homeless” man in the bus station parking lot was “looking in car windows and pulling on handles of parked cars.”
8:34 p.m.: Wolfe, 36, and an unidentified second officer in a separate patrol car were contacted by the dispatcher and asked to respond.
But the 37-year-old Ramos, according to the DA’s report, radioed that he was in the area “and would take the lead for the call. The second officer was subsequently cancelled from the call.”
8:37 p.m.: Ramos and Wolfe, in separate cars, arrived on the scene. For the next five minutes, the two officers talked to Thomas.
“Thomas was detained by the officers at that time [8:37 p.m.] but not placed under arrest,” according to the DA’s report. “Based on prior undocumented contacts with Thomas, the officers behaved in a manner consistent with the belief that Thomas did not pose them any risk.
“Thomas was shirtless, wearing pants with no obvious protrusions, and the officers did not pat him down for weapons. Ramos and Officer Wolfe spoke with Thomas, instructed him to sit on the curb, and requested to search a backpack in Thomas’ possession.”
8:42 p.m.: Wolfe took the backpack to the rear of his patrol car out of sight of Ramos and Thomas, where he examined it. Ramos was alone with Thomas.
It was during this period that Ramos frightened Thomas, the report asserts. After Thomas apparently had trouble understanding Ramos’ instructions to put his legs out straight and his hands on his knees, Ramos pulled on latex gloves, curled his fingers into a fist in front of Thomas’ face and, according to the report, said: “Now, see these fists? … They are getting ready to f*** you up.”
A few moments later, the report says, “Ramos is accused of then grabbing Thomas’ left arm. Thomas pulled his shoulder back to release Ramos’ grip. Ramos is accused of again reaching for Thomas’ arm, but Thomas swept the officer’s hand away with his own and stood up so that he was facing Ramos.
“Ramos is accused of removing his baton and Thomas lifted his hands to chest-height, with his palms open in a defensive stance to block Ramos. Thomas began to back away but in no way assaulted Ramos …
“At the time Thomas stood up from the curb and faced Ramos, Officer Wolfe ran to them from the rear of the patrol vehicle, which was approximately 10 to 15 feet away, where he had been reviewing the contents of the backpack.”
Wolfe apparently didn’t hear the exchange between Ramos and Thomas because of noise at the bus station, Rackauckas said at his news conference.
“Officer Wolfe faced Thomas and drew his baton. He continued to approach Thomas as the victim backed away.
“Wolfe struck Thomas in the left leg with his baton. Thomas then turned and ran in front of one of the parked patrol vehicles. As Ramos chased directly after him, Officer Wolfe ran the opposite direction around the back of the patrol vehicle and met Thomas and Ramos on the other side.”
8:52 p.m.: This was the point, according to the DA’s timeline, that “the physical altercation began.” It lasted “nine minutes and 40 seconds until the victim was in handcuffs and no longer moving.”
“Ramos is accused of tackling Thomas to the ground. Once Thomas was on the ground, Ramos is accused of punching him several times in the left ribs, using his hands to hold Thomas’ neck, and partially laying on Thomas to use his own body weight to pin the victim to the ground.
“He is accused of not informing the other officers at the scene that he had made menacing threats against Thomas or asking the officers to discontinue their use of force against Thomas.”
“Wolfe tackled Thomas to the ground with Ramos, kneed and punched Thomas, and used his body weight to minimize Thomas’ movement as other officers arrived.”
It’s not clear from the DA’s timeline when it happened, but at some point Wolfe radioed twice for “all available officers” to come to the scene.
8:54 p.m. Two minutes after the violence began, Cicinelli, 39, arrived alone in his patrol car.
“When Cicinelli arrived, Thomas was on the ground with Ramos and Wolfe on top of him engaged in a struggle. Ramos’ arm had become entangled with Thomas’ arm.
“Cicinelli is accused of responding to the altercation and kneeing Thomas twice in the head. He is accused of using his Taser four times on Thomas, including three times as a ‘drive stun’ for approximately five seconds each. A ‘drive stun’ is the direct application of the Taser to the skin.
“The fourth time was a dart deployment, in which two darts connected to wires are ejected from the Taser and affix to skin or clothing, for approximately 12 seconds. Thomas screamed and yelled in pain while being Tased.
“Cicinelli is accused of using the front end of his Taser to hit Thomas in the head and facial area eight times. Thomas made no audible sound while being hit with the Taser. The last hit from the Taser was the last strike to Thomas.”
“Cicinelli is accused of kneeling on Thomas’ body to use his own body weight to pin the victim to the ground.”
Seconds after Cicinelli arrived, Hampton, 41, arrived in his patrol car, according to the report.
“When Officer Hampton arrived, Thomas was on the ground with Ramos, Officer Wolfe and Cicinelli on top of him engaged in a struggle. … Officer Hampton placed a handcuff around Thomas’ left wrist. He assisted in applying the hobble, or ankle restraint, to Thomas’ ankles and held Thomas’ legs down using his hands.”
8:56 p.m.: Two minutes after Cicinelli and Hampton arrived, Craig, 44, was on the scene.
“When Sergeant Craig arrived, Thomas was on the ground with Ramos, Officer Wolfe and Cicinelli on top of him engaged in a struggle and Officer Hampton holding his feet. Sergeant Craig approached and put one knee on Thomas’s shoulder/back area to minimize Thomas’ movement.”
8:57 p.m.: One minute later, Blatney, 42, arrived in his patrol car. At this point, Thomas had been struggling with the officers for five minutes.
“When Corporal Blatney arrived, Thomas was on the ground with Ramos, Officer Wolfe and Cicinelli on top of him engaged in a struggle, Officer Hampton holding his feet, and Sergeant Craig restraining Thomas with a knee to the back/shoulder.
“Corporal Blatney assisted Officer Hampton in applying the hobble to Thomas’ ankles and then also held the defendant’s legs down with his hands.”
According to the DA’s timeline, the struggle continued for three minutes after Blatney arrived.
8:59:50 p.m. Fullerton Fire Department records show the call from police dispatch to send paramedics was received at 8:59:50 p.m., according to city spokeswoman Sylvia Palmer Mudrick.
9:02:55 p.m.: Fullerton Fire Department records show paramedics arrived at 9:02:55.
As the DA’s report noted, “Thomas never regained consciousness.”