Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office will ask the county grand jury today to indict a third former Fullerton police officer, Joseph Wolfe, in connection with the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas, according to Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas.
Wolfe was one of the first officers on the scene July 5, 2011, when six police officers confronted 37-year-old Kelly Thomas at the Fullerton bus station. The confrontation and portions of the beating were captured by a bus station camera and on voice recorders worn by some of the officers.
For months Ron Thomas has urged Rackauckas to bring charges against Wolfe. A grand jury indictment is a speedier criminal process than the usual filing of charges and the months-long wait for a preliminary hearing.
Calls for comment to the DA’s office and Wolfe’s attorney, Vicki Podberesky, were not immediately returned.
Two officers have already been criminally charged. Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and excessive use of force, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is accused of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. Both have pleaded not guilty.
At the Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday night, Capt. Dan Hughes, acting police chief, told the City Council there is no evidence Kelly Thomas committed a crime.
Hughes’ statement came at the request of Ron Thomas, who has spent the 14 months since his son’s death trying to have the officers involved prosecuted, to reform the Fullerton police department and to clear his son’s reputation.
Ron Thomas said the facts presented by Hughes already had been reported by outside investigator Michael Gennaco, who heads the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review and was hired by Fullerton to analyze problems with the police department.
However, said Ron Thomas, “I had to hear it from the police department.”
Kelly Thomas suffered from untreated schizophrenia and lived on the streets. An employee at the Slidebar, a bar near the Fullerton bus station, called police and said Kelly Thomas was testing the door handles of parked cars, apparently trying to break into them.
When officers talked to Kelly Thomas they found he had a backpack that didn’t appear to belong to him as well as mail addressed to someone else. After his beating, police determined the backpack had been abandoned and Kelly Thomas found it and the mail had been thrown in the trash by its owner.
In his prepared statement, Hughes said Kelly Thomas didn’t break the ribs of any officers, as initially reported by police based on a hospital preliminary diagnosis. When the correct diagnosis was made later, the initial police report wasn’t corrected publicly.
— TRACY WOOD
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