A 37-year-old Fullerton police officer was in custody today in lieu of $1-million bail as he awaited arraignment next week on homicide charges in the death of a schizophrenic homeless man.
Officer Manuel Ramos has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, who died five days after a violent confrontation with six officers responding to reports of car burglaries at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the felony
charges at a news conference Wednesday. The other four officers involved in Thomas's arrest will not face criminal charges. All six officers are on administrative leave.
Ramos and Cicinelli turned themselves in after the charges were announced and appeared in a downtown Santa Ana courtroom in the Wednesday afternoon.
Cicinelli pleaded not guilty, but Ramos' arraignment was postponed until Monday, when a bail-review hearing will also be held.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh set bail at $1 million
for Ramos and $25,000 for Cicinelli and ordered them to surrender their weapons. Cicinelli, who posted bail Wednesday, is due back in court Nov. 4. Ramos was in jail this morning at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana, said sheriff's Lt. Mike Peters.
Rackauckas said Ramos, a 10-year Fullerton Police Department veteran, faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Cicinelli, who left the Los Angeles Police Department on disability after losing an eye in a South L.A. shooting in 1996 and who has been a Fullerton officer 12 years, faces up to four years in prison.
Rackauckas said Ramos threatened Thomas during the arrest, put on latex gloves and told the man, "Now see my fists? They are getting ready to f--- you up." Officers then struck Thomas' head and body as he cried out for his father and told them, "I'm sorry."
"That declaration was the turning point,'' the district attorney said. "That was the defining moment. Ramos was telling Kelly Thomas at that moment that this encounter had changed. That it went from a fairly routine police investigation, a fairly routine police detention, to an impending beating by anangry police officer.''
Cicinelli kneed Thomas twice in the head and used his Taser on the man four times, Rackauckas said, adding that the corporal also hit Thomas in the face with the Taser eight times.
"From what's visible on the videotape, Kelly Thomas appeared to be acting in self-defense, in pain and in a state of panic,'' the district
attorney said. "His numerous pleas of `I'm sorry,' `I can't breathe,' `Help,' `Dad,' all to no avail.
"Screams, loud screams, didn't help,'' Rackauckas said. "Kelly Thomas not responding when the blows to his face occurred—no help —(nor) a growing pool of blood as Kelly Thomas became unresponsive.''
Ultimately, Thomas died because of the force of the officers on his chest, which made it impossible to breathe, Rackauckas said. He lost
consciousness, slipped into a coma and died when he was taken off life-support five days later.
Ramos' attorney, John D. Barnett, called Rackauckas' charges "unprecedented.''
"I've seen the video and Officer Ramos is not guilty of murder, manslaughter or any other crime,'' Barnett told City News Service. "He was a peace officer in the lawful performance of his duty.''
Barnett said Ramos was trying to "de-escalate'' the situation when he
allegedly shook his fists at Thomas.
"All Kelly Thomas had to do was comply and it would have been a normal arrest, but he didn't comply,'' Barnett said.
Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas's father, said he had feared there would be no charges.
"We came in here expecting the worst and got the best,'' said the
former sheriff's deputy, adding that Rackauckas assured him there would be no plea bargains.
The FBI has opened a parallel investigation into whether the officers
violated Thomas' civil rights and Fullerton City Council members have hired an independent investigator to do an internal review of the arrest.
—City News Service