California police officers Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos were acquitted by an Orange County jury Monday in the beating death of homeless man Kelly Thomas, who was mentally ill. The district attorney will not try the third officer accused in the gruesome attack. Cicinelli and Ramos, now former police officers, were charged with beating Thomas with a baton and shocking him with a stun gun that left him in a coma. Three days later, Thomas succumbed to his injuries and died.
On the night of July 5, 2011, security cameras surrounding a transit parking lot caught Thomas being beaten and stunned by police officers. News of the beating went viral and sparked a nationwide outcry for justice.
Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. After the jury deliberated, both officers were found not guilty on all charges.
The California police officers being acquitted in the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas left Thomas’s parents in dismay. Following the court’s decision, they condemned the verdict. Ron Thomas, the father of the victim, was stricken with disbelief as the verdict was rendered. Mr. Thomas reportedly said“he’d never seen such a miscarriage of justice.”
During the arguments and admission of evidence, John Barnett, the defense attorney for Ramos, said, “These peace officers were doing their jobs…they did what they were trained to do.”
On that fateful day, Ramos and Cicinelli were dispatched to investigate a call about a man vandalizing cars in a transit parking lot in Fullerton. Upon their arrival, they were met by a disheveled and seemingly violent Kelly Thomas. Security cameras showed–and eyewitnesses said–that the officers were using excessive force in an attempt to subdue Thomas.
The prosecution stated that the incident took a turn for the worse after Ramos put on a pair of gloves and proceeded to shake his fists in Thomas’s face, saying, “Now see my fists? They’re getting ready to (expletive) you up.”
Cicinelli, who arrived after the altercation took place, is said to have struck Thomas repeatedly in the face with the butt of his stun gun. The blows to Thomas’s face and neck resulted in many broken bones and lacerations to the upper body. The prosecution also said that Thomas was stunned multiple times even after he was screaming for help.
The coroner’s report stated that Thomas died as a result of asphyxiation from the officers sitting on his chest while he was choking on his own blood during the brutal beating.
During the five-week trial, a group of Thomas’s supporters, known as “Kelly’s Army,” packed the courtroom sporting buttons and ribbons in Thomas’s honor.
As a sign of the case’s significance, four-term California District Attorney Tony Rackauckas tried the case. He told jurors that Ramos was the responsible party in Thomas’s death because he threatened an uncooperative homeless man.
In response, the defense stated that Thomas was to blame for the incident because of his disobedience toward the officers that led to him fleeing and resisting arrest. Although Rackauckas’ arguments described the gruesomeness of the excessive attack, his efforts were not enough to sway the Orange County jury. A third officer was also awaiting trial but the DA will not pursue further charges.
The aftermath of the verdict left Fullerton in an uproar. Days of protests led to the recall of three City Council members and forced the police chief out of his position. As three other officers involved will not be charged, and the two California police officers being acquitted of all charges, the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas leaves California looking for answers.
By Alex Lemieux