Two former Fullerton, California police officers were acquitted Monday of brutally beating an unarmed mentally ill homeless man, who died days later, with charges dropped against a third officer involved in the July 2011 incident.
The Los Angeles Timesreports an Orange County jury found former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos not guilty of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic who was beaten into a coma by Ramos and former Fullerton Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who prosecuted the case, said involuntary manslaughter charges against Joseph Wolfe, who is awaiting trial, were dropped.
Thomas was stopped by Ramos, who was responding to a call about a "homeless-looking man" possibly trying to gain entry to vehicles parked in a transit center parking lot. Ramos grew frustrated with Thomas, who he claimed refused to follow his orders to sit on a curb with his hands on his knees. A police audio recording captured Ramos threatening Thomas, saying, "See these fists? They're getting ready to fuck you up."
Cicinelli arrived on the scene moments later. According to witnesses, officers struck Thomas with a baton and shot him with an electric stun gun. When Thomas attempted to flee, the officers caught him, and although he was immobile, they beat him with flashlights and stunned him again. Thomas' face was smashed with the butt end of the stun gun, shattering bones.
Kelly Thomas in 2002 (left) and after being brutally beaten by Fullerton, California police officers in July 2011.
"They kept beating him and Tasering him. I could hear zapping, and [Thomas] wasn't even moving," witness Mark Turgeon told KABC. "He wasn't resisting. They kept telling him, 'quit resisting,' but he wasn't resisting."
In a video of the incident, Thomas can be heard crying out for his father as he is beaten and electrically stunned.
Thomas, who was so severely beaten that he was in a comatose state, was placed on life support at UCI Medical Center in Orange. He died five days later. The county coroner's office determined Thomas died as a result of brain damage from a lack of oxygen caused by chest compression and other injuries suffered at the hands of the accused officers.
But defense lawyers argued that Thomas died due to an enlarged heart resulting from drug abuse, and that he started the confrontation with police by refusing to obey officers' orders and allegedly attempting to reach for Cicinelli's stun gun.
"I've never seen something so bad happen to a human being, and have it done by on-duty police officers, and they can walk away scot-free," Ron Thomas, Kelly's father and a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy, told the Times. Thomas, who previously called his son's death an act of "cold-blooded, aggravated murder," said he hoped the US Justice Department would file federal charges against the acquitted officers.
The Orange County Registerreports that as news of the verdict spread, a vigil and protest took place at the transit center where Thomas was beaten. A crowd of more than 100 people shouted slogans like, "No justice, no peace" and "it's not over yet."
"They know that justice has not been served," said Kelly's mother, Cathy Thomas, of the protesters.
"We need to keep on this and not let it die," Ron Thomas told the Register. "I guarantee you that somewhere in this nation, right now, someone is getting beat up by a police officer."