SANTA ANA (CNS) – Two Fullerton police officers were charged today in connection with the death of a schizophrenic homeless man who was left hospitalized after his violent July 5 arrest by six officers and taken off life support five days later.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 37, was charged with second-degree murder and
involuntary manslaughter, while Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, was charged with
involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force, according to the District
Attorney’s Office. All the charges are felonies.
They are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, who was arrested July
5 at the Fullerton Transportation Center. Thomas’ subsequent hospitalization
and death touched off a firestorm in Fullerton, including an effort to recall
three City Council members and calls for the police chief to resign.
According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Ramos
faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Cicinelli — a former Los
Angeles Police Department officer who left the agency on disability after
losing an eye in a South Los Angeles shooting — faces up to four years in
Rackauckas said the charges were needed to maintain public trust in the
“We must do everything that we can to ensure that we protect this
trust, including if necessary, prosecuting police officers who violate the
law,” the district attorney said. “… The biggest shame about this case is
that it didn’t have to happen. It could have been avoided. It never should have
He noted that Ramos threatened Thomas during the arrest, put on latex
gloves and told the man he was going to beat him.
“By making this declaration of violence … Ramos instilled in that
victim fear, a reasonable fear for his life, that he was in danger and he was
in danger by a police officer who wanted to `f’ him up with his fists,”
According to Rackauckas, Ramos — who knew Thomas from previous contacts
— and and knew he had and Officer Joseph Wolfe were the first to arrive at
the transportation center shortly after 8:30 p.m. July 5. They contacted
Thomas, and while Wolfe walked toward his patrol car to look through Thomas’
backpack, Ramos began barking orders at the homeless man.
Suffering from obvious mental difficulties, Thomas had trouble following
the officer’s orders, and Ramos became increasingly aggressive, the district
attorney said. The officer ordered Thomas to sit on the ground with his legs
outstretched and his hands on his knees, and when he failed to comply, he put
on the latex gloves in a “menacing” maneuver, according to Rackauckas.
“Ramos leaned over Kelly Thomas in this most menacing way,” Rackauckas
said. “He made two fists with his gloves on, two fists. He lifted his fists
to Kelly Thomas in front of his face so he could see them, and he said, `Now
see my fists, they’re getting ready to `f’ you up.’
“That declaration was the turning point. 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 an angry police officer.”
Rackauckas said Wolfe was still by his patrol car at the time, and was
unaware of Ramos’ actions until the exchange led to Thomas standing up and
Ramos swinging a baton at him. Wolfe ran over and helped detain Thomas, but
“the evidence does not indicate that Officer Wolf had any knowledge that
Officer Ramos was engaged in any unlawful police conduct.”
Four other officers eventually arrived on the scene in response to a
call for help — Cicinelli, Sgt. Kevin Craig, Cpl. James Blatney and Officer
Cicinelli kneed Thomas twice in the head and used his Taser on the man
four times, according to Rackauckas, adding that the corporal also hit Thomas
in the face with the Taser.
“Kelly Thomas screamed and yelled in pain when he was being Tased,”
Rackauckas said. “Cicinelli used the front of the Taser to hit Kelly Thomas in
the face eight times in the facial area, eight times, while Kelly Thomas was
pinned to the ground with the weight of the other police officers’ bodies. All
of this hitting with the Taser happened and there was no audible response from
Kelly Thomas at that time. When Kelly didn’t scream in response to these blows,
it should have indicated to Cicinelli that Kelly was down and seriously hurt.
“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.”
“… We simply cannot accept that in our community it is within the
police right to place gloves on a police officer’s hands and … say `These
fists are ready to `f’ you up.’ That is not protecting and serving. Ramos had
to know that he was creating this situation where Kelly Thomas would fear for
Rackauckas said he did not anticipate any charges being filed against
the other officers who were on the scene of the arrest. All six officers had
been placed on paid administrative leave and will remain on leave pending the
outcome of the various investigations, according to Sgt. Andrew Goodrich of the
Fullerton Police Department.
Ramos and Cicinelli have both turned themselves in to authorities and
were scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Prosecutors plan to ask that Ramos be
held in lieu of $1 million bail, and that Cicinelli’s bail be set at $25,000.
Fullerton police Chief Michael Sellers has gone on a month-to-month
medical leave since August, when two City Council members called for his
resignation, leaving Capt. Kevin Hamilton as acting chief.
Thomas’ father, Ron, a former sheriff’s deputy, and the victim’s mother,
Cathy, have filed a claim against Fullerton, the precursor to a lawsuit. They
are represented by attorney Garo Mardirossian, who has held several news
conferences to criticize Fullerton police and pressure Rackauckas to accelerate
“I didn’t expect this,” Thomas said after the charges were announced. “I am elated.”
`It’s very hard to hold my composure of course, very hard, it’s exactly
what we’ve all wanted,” he said.
Mardirossian said he praised the decision to file charges.
“But at the same time let’s not forget we can’t bring Kelly back,” he
said. “What Kelly when through that day, no human being should have gone
through. … We’ve got to make sure these officers are convicted and sent to
jail so another Kelly Thomas beating does not occur.”
The FBI has opened a parallel investigation into whether the officers
violated Thomas’ civil rights and Fullerton City Council members have also hired an independent investigator to do an internal review of the arrest.