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Grand jury: Third Fullerton officer beat Kelly Thomas

 Ron Thomas, the father of the homeless man beaten by police, after viewing video of violent confrontation.

A third former Fullerton police officer charged in the death of Kelly Thomas was the first in a group of officers to hit and then knee the homeless man, who died after the violent confrontation, according to grand jury testimony made public Thursday.

The grand jury concluded Joseph Wolfe became a participant in a crime the moment a fellow officer -– standing over Thomas at the city’s downtown transportation center -– slipped on a pair of latex gloves and told the homeless man that he was in for a beating.

Thomas was beaten with batons, fists and the butt of a stun gun, according to authorities, and later died from a lack of oxygen to the brain. In the videotape of the incident, he can be heard yelling to his father for help.

Wolfe, 37, has pleaded not guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. Two other former officers were charged earlier in the case, one with murder.

Joseph McNamara, an expert in police ethics and policy, gave lengthy testimony to the grand jury last month, in which he relied on surveillance video, audio recordings and transcripts to form his conclusion that Wolfe should also be charged. 

McNamara said that a variety of factors contributed to his conclusion, including the dialogue, the language and the body language of the officers.

“And at this point in time, Wolfe is not a spectator,” McNamara said. “This is his partner. He is a participant in this use of excessive force. There is nowhere in professional policing that Ramos’ conduct and words are justified."

Wolfe was the first person to strike Thomas, according to the testimony, and then knee and push him to the ground. At one point, he uses his baton on the homeless man.

Two other officers involved in the incident were charged last September. Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Thomas’ death became a flashpoint in the Orange County city, sparking street protests and political upheaval. Council members have been recalled, the police chief left and reforms have been promised.

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- -Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Ron Thomas, the father of the homeless man beaten by police, after viewing video of violent confrontation. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
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