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 was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, while Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
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 faces up to four years in prison. He said the charges were needed to maintain public trust in the police department.
“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.
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,” Rackauckas said.
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 head with the Taser.
“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 his life.”
Rackaukas said he did not anticipate any charges being filed against the other four officers who were on the scene of the arrest. All six officers had been placed on paid administrative leave.
Ramos and Cicinelli have both turned themselves in to authorities and were scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. 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 his investigation.
Mardirossian also represents Edward Miguel Quinonez, 28, and Veth Mam, 35, who allege that Fullerton police Officer Kenton Hampton falsely arrested them in separate incidents. Mam was acquitted of resisting arrest and Quinonez, who filed a complaint with Fullerton police last year, reached a settlement with city officials.
Mardirossian has claimed Hampton was among the six officers involved in Thomas’ arrest, but city officials have not confirmed that.
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.