Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh Friday set March 28 as the preliminary hearing date for two Fullerton police officers accused in the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.
The officers, Manuel Ramos, 37, charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and Jay Cicinelli, 39, charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force, are free on bail.
Ramos, with his hands in front of him, and Cicinelli, hands clasped behind his back, wore dark suits and ties and stood quietly with defense attorney John Barnett during the brief proceedings.
Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old transient who suffered from severe schizophrenia, died of suffocation and other injuries five days after being beaten by the officers on July 5 at the Fullerton bus station. Ramos was among the first of six officers who responded to a call that Thomas was breaking into cars.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said that Thomas was unarmed and did not pose a threat. Ramos initiated the beating, and Cicinelli later joined in, Rackauckas said. The DA did not charge the other four officers.
Larsh, Rackauckas and Brian Gurwitz, the lawyer for Kathy Thomas, mother of Kelly Thomas, also tried to devise a way to handle the civil case filed by Gurwitz this week that seeks a court order. The order would give Kathy Thomas the right to examine evidence collected by the district attorney’s office.
A section of the California Public Records Act allows victims of a crime to see evidence that is provided to those accused of committing the crime. Gurwitz said Kathy Thomas agreed to a gag order that would prohibit her from discussing what she sees, but the DA’s office rejected the request.
“The solution may not be entirely simple,” Rackauckas told the judge. Larsh said he would speak with the judge assigned to the civil case and see what might be arranged.
Outside the courtroom, Gurwitz said Cathy Thomas was seeking the records because “it would mean she would have answers” to what happened the night the police officers “killed her son.”
One item of evidence that has been widely discussed but never publicly seen is a video recorded by a camera at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
In a suggestion of the courtroom drama to come, Barnett, who is one of the area’s leading defense attorneys and is representing both defendants, told reporters that he would ask the judge to dismiss the charges against Ramos at the preliminary hearing.
“The actions my client took were appropriate under the circumstances,” he said. “I expect the court will dismiss the charges after hearing all the evidence. … He did what he was supposed to do and nothing more.”
Barnett said Kelly Thomas “presented a danger to the community and a danger to the police officers as he has for years.”
Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas’ father, told reporters Barnett was “throwing everybody else [the other officers] under the bus” to clear Ramos.
“He’s [Barnett’s] going to tell lies after lies after lies” in defending Ramos, said Ron Thomas. “Kelly posed no threat.”
He cited documents released earlier by the DA’s office and said his son stood with his palms open facing Ramos and “literally ran for his life” because he feared the officer.