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Kelly Thomas' mom sues D.A. for records in homeless son's death

December 16, 2011 | 10:54 am

The mother of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man whom Fullerton police officers allegedly killed, has sued the Orange County district attorney for records detailing her son's violent death

The mother of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man whom Fullerton police officers allegedly killed, has sued the Orange County district attorney for records detailing her son's violent death.

Cathy Thomas sued after Dist. Atty. Tony Ruckaukas' office said releasing the records could compromise the criminal prosecution of Officer Manuel Ramos on charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli on charges of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

Cathy Thomas is seeking surveillance video, police audio recordings and witness statements related to the deadly July 5 beating of her son at the Fullerton transit center. Kelly Thomas died five days after he was hospitalized.

Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney's chief of staff, said representatives of the office have met with both of Thomas' parents and sympathize with Cathy Thomas' desire to see the records. However, she said, at this stage, the prosecutors' priority is to pursue charges against the officers.

In announcing the charges, Rackauckas described a scene in which a scared and bleeding Kelly Thomas begged for his life as the officers beat and Tasered him in a violent confrontation.

Rackauckas said Ramos put on latex gloves and made a fist at Thomas. Then, Rackauckas said, the officer, in a "menacing" manner, threatened Thomas: "These fists are ready to ... you up."

Both officers have denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

Cathy Thomas' attorney, Brian Gurwitz, said his client is a victim under the law and entitled to the see the records under the California Public Records Act.

"The Public Records Act makes a very clear distinction that a victim should be treated differently than the general public," Gurwitz said. "There is no issue of this being released to everyone. The officers' attorneys already have this information."

He said his client was willing to sign a stipulation that would bar her from circulating the records to others.

In rejecting Gurwitz's request for the records, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca Olivieri wrote that Cathy Thomas may be entitled to the records at some point but that a premature release "would clearly endanger the successful completion of the investigation and the case against the defendants."

Olivieri noted such a move could interfere with witnesses, and she cited an exception to the records act that allows law enforcement to deny access to investigative files.

Six officers were placed on leave after the beating, but Rackauckas filed charges only against Ramos and Cicinelli. The other four were unaware of the statements and threats made by Ramos, the district attorney said.

Cicinelli allegedly Tased Thomas four times, kneed him in the head twice and hit him eight times with the Taser, Rackauckas said.


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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Cathy Thomas hugs a bystander at an August memorial for her son, Kelly Thomas. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times