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OCDA details case against Fullerton officers

OCDA Tony Rackauckas explained his decisions in the case against two Fullerton police officers.

September 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas explained his decision to lay out the case in such great detail Thursday.

After an 11-week investigation, Officer Manuel Ramos, 37, and Corporal Jay Cicinelli, 39, face felonies in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.

Ramos, who has been with the force for 10 years, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, who has been with the force for 12 years, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail. Ramos will be arraigned on Monday.

Ramos's attorney, John Barnett, said his client was simply doing his job.

"Officer Ramos did what he was trained to do and he committed no crime," Barnett said in a statement. "He was confronted with a suspect who was combative and refused to comply with his lawful order. He was non-compliant, resisted and set these tragic events in motion. To charge a peace officer with murder under these circumstances is unprecedented and just wrong."

Ramos was held at Orange County Jail in Santa Ana on $1 million bail. He was held in isolation due to death threats.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Ramos and Cicinelli Wednesday, providing a graphic blow-by-blow account of the July 5 incident at a news conference. The D.A. even used props including latex gloves and a Taser gun and he also recited verbatim quotes recorded on body microphones and surveillance video. Investigators had also interviewed 151 witnesses.

In the 10-minute-long beating, Ramos is accused of punching Thomas in ribs and holding him down on the ground with one hand on his neck. Prosecutors say when Cicinelli arrived on scene, he kneed Thomas in the head and Tasered him four times and hit Thomas in the face with the butt of the stun gun as Thomas cried out for his father and begged for help.

Prosecutors say it was Ramos who set in motion the events that led to Thomas's death.

As Ramos snapped on a pair of latex gloves and leaned over a confused Thomas, prosecutors say, his body microphone and surveillance tape captured an angry threat: "Now, see my fists? They are getting ready to [expletive] you up."

"This declaration was a turning point, a defining moment," Rackauckas said, as he announced the charges. "Ramos was telling Kelly Thomas that this encounter had changed from a fairly routine police detention into an impending beating at the hands of an angry police officer."

"I wanted to let people know what the reasons were for the decision that we made and we promised to do that," said Rackauckas.

But Rackauckas so far will not release the surveillance video that he says is a key piece of evidence against the officers since it's part of the investigation.

"That should have been released right away. It would have narrowed down the issues. It would have maybe stifled a lot of speculation," said Fullerton City Councilman Bruce Whitaker.

The four other officers involved in the incident were not charged but remain on paid administrative leave because the FBI has launched a criminal civil rights probe and an internal investigation is pending.

The officers were responding to reports that a homeless person was peering into cars and rattling door handles at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

In response to claims about Ramos, the gloves and the threat, Barnett said his client was using "the lowest type of force." He said Thomas resisted arrested by kicking and swinging at officers.

"It was an attempt by the officer to use words not force to get the suspect to do what he's supposed to do," he said. "He sought to avoid physical confrontation with words. There was no compliance by Mr. Thomas."

Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas's father, watched the prosecutor's news conference on TV with a group of supporters and said he was pleased that Ramos and Cicinelli were charged. He said he feels strongly that the other officers involved should face charges. Ron Thomas is a former Orange County sheriff's deputy.

"If the officers did nothing at all, just stood there and watched, they need administrative action because they just stood there and just watched. They didn't try and stop it," said Ron Thomas.

At the Fullerton Transportation Center, a memorial for Kelly Thomas stands in his memory and serves as a symbol of justice sought by his family and supporters in the community.

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