Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Orange County

Fullerton Officers Criminally Charged in Kelly Thomas Case


This is from the LA Times with multiple staffers working the story, most particularly Abby Sewell, Richard Winton and Scott Gold.

Here’s the opening:

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.

The LA Times editorial board rightly praised OC DA Tony Rackauckas in the Kelly Thomas case for “conducting a thorough yet timely investigation into a homeless man’s death at the hands of Fullerton police officers..”

In a separate article LAT’s reporters Richard Winton and Abby Sewell write about how DA Rackauckas told those at a news conference how Kelly Thomas had begged for his life only to be pummeled and tased further.

Rackauckas gave a painfully detailed narrative of the July 5 events leading up to Thomas’ death -– details that he said resulted in second-degree murder and manslaughter charges being filed against two police officers.

Rackauckas said Officer Manuel 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.”

The OC Weekly’s reporter Scott Moxley, who has been extremely critical of the Orange County District Attorney over the years, reported that the press conference was Rackauckas’s “finest moment.”

At today’s press conference, the DA seemed to finally fit the job, both in terms of decision-making and style. He didn’t stutter. He didn’t pause for an inordinate amount of time to think up dubious answers. He didn’t run from hard questions. He didn’t use cheap props. He was clearly comfortable and in command. There’s no doubt he believes the severity of the charges are justified.

“In Orange County, we generally trust our law enforcement and with good reason,” he declared. “[But] all people in this great country of ours have a constitutional right to be free from the imposition of unlawful and excessive force under the color of law…”

NBC said that Rackauckas may try the case himself, and is now listed as the attorney of record. Much of the press conference may be viewed here.


Read this article by LA Times’ reporter Jack Leonard.

Here’s a clip:

Murder charges against on-duty police officers — such as the one announced by Orange County prosecutors in the Fullerton beating case — are rarely filed, and successful prosecutions in such cases are almost unheard of in California.

Legal experts said jurors who are naturally sympathetic toward law enforcement are not easily persuaded that an officer has committed the ultimate crime, even after seeing video of the death.

Ira Salzman, who has represented police officers, said defense attorneys in Orange County will have the added benefit of jurors who look favorably toward law enforcement and can make a forceful argument that police had the legal right to use force against a non-complying suspect.

Investigators interviewed more than 150 witnesses, analyzed video and reviewed stacks of documents as part of an intensive 11-week investigation leading up to the decision to charge Officer Manuel Ramos with second-degree murder in the July 10 death of a mentally ill homeless man.

But to obtain a murder conviction, Orange County prosecutors will have to convince jurors that Ramos intended to kill Kelly Thomas or acted with a conscious disregard for life.


The Washington Post has that story.


  • My condolences to the Ron Thomas Family. I am very sorry for your loss. I agree with the DA that the tragic death was very much avoidable should have never happened. May you be comforted.

    Looking at this incident from an objective point I’ve observed two officers who appeared to have gotten carried away in this incident. I have no doubt neither entered into this situation with the hope of killing a homeless man. Emotions seemed to run well-ahead of common sense and that is why one person is dead, two officers were arrested, and several families are grieving. I have a feeling both officers had good backgrounds, did good many things for the public, but badly failed in at least this incident. I do feel for the spouses, children, and parents of the two indicted officers who must be suffering through no fault of their own.

    I am hoping for justice. We should all be hoping for fairness. It is equally important to hold accountable those who commit crimes as it is to exonerate those who are innocent. While I understand the anger of some of the demonstrators we must all take a deep breath and allow the judical system to run its course. Justice will hopefully happen, and it will happen in due time. It can’t be rushed.

    In pre-judging the arrested officers some have allowed their anger to run ahead of common sense. Some have even wanted all 6 officers on death row when a thorough investigation showed at least four officers did not break any law, but they may be subject to departmental discipline. A maniquin was on public display of a uniformed “officer” with Fullerton PD patches on the shoulders and a noose around the neck. At what point have the activists crossed the line? We need civility. We should stand against lynch mobs. There will always be some folks who hate the police regardless.

    My next comment is more than likely going to be very unpopular with some, but I do wish the indicted officers well with their lives. Restorative justice calls that we work to restore those who have been injured, and we expect offenders to repair the harm they have created. Finally we do seek to restore order to both offenders and victims so they may become contributing members of society. Father Greg Boyle has been an icon of the community for standing with and treating offenders with humanity. Sure some made very serious mistakes, but once a debt has been paid to society we should hope these people corrected the behavior and we should they get their live back in order.

    Finally I praise Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas thus far in this matter that has been taxing to him and those in the DAs office. I do understand that it took eleven weeks before making the decision to charge two of the officers in this case, but the DA had to wait for the Coroner to determine the cause of death as well as the toxicology report that was not received until late in the day prior to the press conference.

    I agree to currently NOT release the video as it may taint witnesses and potential jurors. The video will eventually be released to the public but it shouldn’t be released if it will cripple the case. Our focus should squarely on justice.

    I do agree with Celeste’s article that convicting a police officer for Second Degree Murder will be very difficult, if not impossible. Further Officer Ramos has retained the legal services of John Barnett an attorney with decades of experience and very successful at defending police officers.

    Our system of justice is not perfect in this country, but I believe it is the best on this planet. Let us allow calm reasoning and reactions to prevail. Let’s show the rest of the world that we can be civil, and we can also disagree in an orderly fashion. Someday this case will pass, and we’ll turn the page and move on with our lives.

  • Thank you, Celeste, especially for the time when you covered the tragic death of Luis Diaz. I was not able to find any one else in the media that even made a slight mention of Moreno’s passing. I loved Moreno and he was a light who still burns in our hearts, and you were the only person who showed enough care that Moreno’s life did matter.

    The Kelly Thomas incident has been a tragedy for the families of Kelly, the officers, and the community. I can guarantee the outcome will be that no one will win, and how can there be a “winner”? Nothing can bring back Kelly Thomas, two officers careers have been destroyed, and the families of the officers are no doubt hurting and probably have been subjected to abuse from some in the public. Imagine the abuse the children of the officers might be getting.

    Hopefully some good will come of this. Ron Thomas is planning on contributing future funds on behalf of the homeless. I would hope our officers will receive better training on dealing with the homeless and the mentally ill. As a society we should do everything we can to prevent another needless death and do that in the memory of Kelly Thomas.

    A quote from the movie “Reading Room” when James Earl Jones stated: “I always thought if you put a little more care into the world there would be a little less room for hate.”

  • well the officers had a choice kelly did not, they destroyed their own careers.

    as for the other officers not being charged if i was with a group of people and i witnessed or helped them commit a crime i would be charged with them.

  • Roy, thank you for your input. I appreciate calm logical discussion.

    Yes, two officers did cross the line and destroyed their own careers. Certainly the two officers could have handled this in a better manner. There is no way a life should have been lost.

    I, along with the DA, completely agree with you that Kelly did not have a choice. Further Kelly had mental issues, and Officer Ramos had previous contact with Kelly and should have known Kelly’s mental status and should have handled Kelly with kid gloves.

    As for the officers who were not charged I can only go on the statement of the DA who stated the four officers that were not charged did not partake in any illegal action. Some folks erroneously think all six officers were there at the very beginning and witnessed the entire ordeal. That is not true. The timeline indicates most were not there to witness anything illegal and most not do anything illegal. Therefore they should not be charged.

    To reiterate one of my previous statements: we all should seek justice. We should stand for fairness. It is the responsibility of all who sincerely seek justice to hold accountable those who violated the law, and we must also exonerate those who did not violate the law.

    Roy, if you were with a group of people who did not witness any wrongdoing because you were not there and did not commit a crime you should not be charged with anything, and neither should four of the officers.

    Thank you for your exchanging your thoughts!

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