Frustrated with the outcome of a recent trial involving a police beating and the subsequent death of a mentally ill homeless man, homeless advocates in California and elsewhere today are organizing protests and demonstrations, meant to encourage the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to step in.
The courtroom was quiet as the jury foreman prepared to read the verdicts. Not Guilty. Not Guilty. Not Guilty. Not Guilty.
The unbelief started in the back corner and washed over the room. At first silence. Then a collective gasp, followed by tears mixed with laughter mixed with shock.
“NO!”, someone shouted as Kelly Thomas’ mother let loose of her emotions into a tissue.
Thomas had died on July 10, 2011, following a violent confrontation with six police officers. The summer of 2011 was hot and still as Thomas was beaten by the police, tased with a stun gun and struck around the face and head. While Thomas tried to cover up, he screamed for his father multiple times. The entire time a surveillance camera at the transit center watched and recorded silently.
Three officers–Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe–were all charged and all three pleaded not guilty. In January 2013, the defense attempted to get the judge to dismiss the charges. The judge refused, saying that “a reasonable person could infer that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable.”
The jurors deliberated the case for 48 hours and then returned the decision that the officers were not guilty in the beating death of a homeless man which has left emotions high in the city. The charges against the police officers were second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. District Attorney Tony Rackauckus felt the case was so critical that he tried it himself. He decided to drop charges against Joseph Wolfe, a fourth officer who had been awaiting trial.
On leaving the courthouse, Thomas’ parents vilified the verdict. “Just horrific,” Cathy Thomas said. “He got away with murdering my son.” Her husband, Ron Thomas, commented that the verdict will give police free rein to brutalize people.
“All of us need to be very afraid now,” he said. “Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, whatever they want, but it has been proven right here today they’ll get away with it.”
While the defense attorneys claimed that Thomas initiated the confrontation by refusing to follow police orders, Ron Thomas claimed that his son was afflicted with schizophrenia and didn’t comprehend what the officers were telling him.
The video shows Ramos stopping Thomas on July 5, 2011 after a 911 call about a man checking the handles of car doors in the transit center parking lot. Ramos subsequently got frustrated with Thomas who refused instructions to sit on a curb with his hands in plain sight.
Just before the struggle began, Ramos is seen snapping on plastic gloves and making two fists. Holding his fists up in front of Thomas’ face, Ramos is heard to say, “Now see these fists? They’re going to (expletive) you up.”
Cicinelli, arriving a few moments later, zapped Thomas multiple times with a stun gun and used the gun’s butt end to break bones in Thomas’ face and head. After Thomas collapsed on the pavement, paramedics took him to St. Jude Medical Center. Thomas was later transferred to Irvine Medical Center at UC, where he was taken off life support five days later.
Besides the broken bones in his head and face, medical records indicate that Thomas had also choked on his own blood. The coroner said that the compression of the thorax made it impossible for Thomas to breathe and and his brain was oxygen deprived.
Following the verdict, several dozen protesters gathered on the grass across from the courthouse entrance. A similar-sized crowd gathered at the transit center where Thomas was beaten. Both demonstrations were peaceful and no arrests were made.
Homeless advocates are appealing through social media for people to come out and support the effort.
By Jerry Nelson