Kelly Thomas killing: Officers to stand trial in death of mentally ill homeless man
This post has been corrected. See below for details.
Prosecutors vowed to move quickly after an Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered two Fullerton police officers to stand trial in the 2011 death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, faces charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. Ramos faces 15 years to life in prison. Cicinelli faces a four-year sentence.
Although their defense attorneys suggested emergency medical workers -- not the police officers -- caused Thomas' death by failing to provide prompt care, Judge Walter Schwarm determined after a three-day preliminary hearing that there is enough probable cause for the case to go to trial.
After the judge's decision, defense attorney John Barnett made the statement on behalf of Ramos.
Barnett insisted that despite today's decision, Ramos won't face a murder trial -- though he declined to elaborate.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas has said he will fight any challenges to have the case dismissed.
"This case is going to trial," Rackauckas said.
"This is another victory for my son," his Kelly's father Ron Thomas said, "but this is another battle now in this war we have been fighting."
"I won’t say I am happy," he said outside the courtroom. The war won't be over until the officers are convicted, he said.
The case has been particularly emotional for Ron Thomas, who has been forced to watch the video of his son's beating and listen to the heartbreaking pleas. At one point, Kelly Thomas cries out, "Dad, they are killing me!"
In an earlier interview, Ron Thomas said the hardest part of the video and audio "is the sounds of my son calling out."
Rackauckas presented the case himself, playing a dramatic, never-before-seen video that showed a shirtless Thomas being pummeled and held down by Fullerton police officers.
Rackauckas said Ramos "turned a routine encounter into a brutal beating death" while Cicinelli "assisted in the killing of Kelly Thomas" by "smashing his face" with the butt of a Taser stun gun and applying his own weight on Thomas' torso.
A coroner's pathologist said Thomas died of chest compression and blood from his facial wounds.
"Mr. Ramos is guilty of murder," Ron Thomas said, adding, "Mr. Rackauckas did an outstanding job."
Now that and Orange County judge has ordered to Fullerton police officers to stand trial in the death of Kelly Thomas, supporters of his family said prosecutors should now seek charges against a third cop.
"There is no way I can feel happy about this," said Christina Walker, 41, of Fullerton, wearing a baby blue shirt that said, “Justice 4 Kelly Thomas.’ “It's just one teeny tiny slice of victory on the way to justice."
Walker, who sat with the Thomas family during the three-day preliminary hearing, said she was an acquaintance of Kelly Thomas’ as a child, but was drawn to the case after his death because her brother is also a homeless schizophrenic.
After Kelly Thomas’ death, she protested for four weeks alongside the Thomas family in seeking charges against the officers involved.
Walker said she believes prosecutors should also charge Officer Joe Wolfe, who is one of six police officers involved in the altercation and put on leave after the invident. Wolfe is one of the first officers who made contact with Thomas on the night of July 5.
"I dont care if I have to protest for the next year," she said.
Outside the courtroom, supporters hugged each other.
John Oetken, 50, was among the supporters. The Tustin resident attended the hearing along with eight other members of Oath Keepers, an organization of active, retired officers and armed services.
"Justice should be served," he said.
-- Richard Winton and Angel Jennings at Orange County Superior Court
Photo: At Orange County Superior Court, Ron Thomas bows his head as attorney Garo Mardirossian tells the media that a judge will bring two Fullerton police officers to trial for the death of Kelly Thomas. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
For the record, 9:39 p.m.: A previous version of this post misidentified attorney Garo Mardirossian as Rowena J. Dizon.