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Officer charged in Kelly Thomas death was just doing his job, attorney says

September 21, 2011 | 12:32 pm

Click here to see more Kelly Thomas photos. The attorney for one of two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas criticized prosecutors for their decision.

Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia and was a regular presence in downtown Fullerton. Officer Jay Cicinelli has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, said his client was simply doing his job under difficult conditions when he tried to restrain Thomas.

Photos: Kelly Thomas death

“Officer Ramos was confronted that evening with a non-compliant suspect with a history of violence,” Barnett said. “Officer Ramos had the responsibility and the duty to detain, restrain and arrest him.”

Barnett, who said he watched Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ news conference on television, 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.”

Barnett said the decision to file charges in the case would have a chilling effect on the way police officers perform their duties.

“Police officers who risk their lives daily because of violence directed at them on the streets now have to be concerned with being charged in the courtroom for simply performing their duties,” Barnett said.

Thomas died five days after a confrontation with six officers, after being removed from life support.

Earlier this month, an attorney representing the Thomas family released hospital records that showed Thomas had tested negative for drugs and alcohol and that the immediate cause of death was "brain death" due to "head trauma" from the incident.

The hospital records released showed that he suffered brain injuries, a shattered nose, a smashed cheekbone, broken ribs and severe internal bleeding. Thomas also had been shocked with a stun gun "multiple" times, including in the left chest near the heart, the records showed.


Full coverage: Kelly Thomas death

Impatient crowd gathers outside D.A.'s office

-- Jack Leonard

Photo: Slides from Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas' news conference list the charges against Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images