The two Fullerton police officers charged criminally in the death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas will have their legal bills paid by an insurance system created four decades ago especially for law enforcement.

Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are among 92,000 peace officers in California who belong to PORAC and are covered by its legal insurance program.

The insurance covers all legal bills, which can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars in a big case. Exceptions are lodging and office space when a trial is moved out of its county.

A preliminary hearing for the two officers is set for March 28. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Cicinelli is accused of involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force. If convicted, Ramos faces 15 years to life in prison, and Cicinelli could be sentenced to as long as four years.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said that on July 5, Ramos initiated the beating of Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to Rackauckas, Cicinelli later joined Ramos in the beating. Thomas went into a coma and died five days later of suffocation and head injuries.

Four other officers at the scene were not charged with any wrongdoing.

PORAC began its legal defense fund in 1974, said Cottingham. It covers all costs of the trial, production of documents, expert witnesses and other legal expenses.

“It’s a good fund,” he said. “It does what it’s supposed to do.”

On their own, officers charged with crimes may not have the resources to pay for a good defense, said Cottingham.

In some large jurisdictions like Los Angeles, police may establish their own legal defense fund, separate from the one offered by PORAC, he said.

— TRACY WOOD

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