Kelly Thomas: Father urges high bail in son's 'horrific' death
Two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of a homeless man made their first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, and one was set to be released on bail.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas took the unusual step of appearing in person for the arraignment of Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, who are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37. Thomas' father, Ron, also spoke out at Rackauckas' request during the arraignment.
Cicinelli pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and the use of excessive force. He posted $25,000 bail and was slated to be released Wednesday. His next hearing is set Nov. 4.
Ramos' arraignment on charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter was postponed until Monday, as his attorney is out of town. He remains in custody with bail set at $1 million.
The issue of bail will be revisited Monday. When asked if he opposed a bail reduction, Rackauckas called up Ron Thomas, who asked the judge not to reduce the bail amount because of the "horrific way" his son was killed.
The judge ordered both officers to surrender their firearms when they are released from custody.
The court appearance came three hours after Rackauckas announced the charges at a dramatic news conference during which he gave a detailed and chilling narrative of the beating that resulted in Thomas' death.
Rackauckas said Thomas begged for his life as Fullerton police officers beat him and Tasered him July 5.
Ramos put latex gloves on his hands and brandished a fist at Thomas. Then, Rackauckas said, the officer, in a "menacing" manner, threatened Thomas: "These fists are ready to F you up."
Scared and bleeding, Thomas begged for his life. No one listened, Rackauckas said.
"Kelly Thomas appeared to be acting in self-defense, in pain, in a state of panic. His numerous pleas of 'I'm sorry,' 'I can't breathe,' 'help,' 'Dad,' all to no avail," Rackauckas said. "Screams, loud screams, didn't help."
"Kelly Thomas was not responding when blows to his face occurred," Rackauckas said, adding, "That is not protecting and serving."
Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, said his client was simply doing his job under difficult conditions when he tried to restrain Thomas.
"Officer Ramos was confronted that evening with a noncompliant suspect with a history of violence," Barnett said. "Officer Ramos had the responsibility and the duty to detain, restrain and arrest him."
Barnett said the district attorney had taken Ramos' threats out of context.
"To characterize that as a justification for Kelly Thomas to leave betrays a complete lack of understanding as to what happens in the street," Barnett said. "This was an attempt to use less force not more.... That does not a murderer make."
A large team of investigators from the Orange County district attorney's office spent 11 weeks combing through a mountain of evidence before a decision was made to file the criminal charges.
Key pieces of evidence included a 30-minute surveillance video taken from a pole camera at the downtown Fullerton bus station and digital audio recording devices carried by Fullerton officers.
Dana Page, Thomas' stepmother, said it was "numbing" to hear Rackauckas recite the details.
She said she was extremely happy with the charges, but said the four other officers involved in the case should also be charged.
"Nothing will bring Kelly back, but we miss him every day," she said. "We'll take the two for now."
-- Richard Winton, Abby Sewell and Nicole Santa Cruz
Photo: Booking photos of Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos, left, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli.
Credit: Orange County district attorney's office