The Orange County District Attorney's Office is looking for witnesses to the incident between Fullerton police and Thomas that led to his death.
If you have any information about this incident, please call Investigator Stan Berry at (714) 347-8813.
EMAIL the THOMAS FAMILY - FreeSprit74@aol.com
FULLERTON (CNS) - The Fullerton City Council will soon have three new members, the result of a successful recall effort that ousted a trio of councilmen who were thrust into the national spotlight after the death of schizophrenic transient Kelly Thomas at the hands of police.
About two-thirds of voters supported the effort to oust Councilmen Don Bankhead, Pat McKinley and Frederick Richard Jones.
The recall had its roots in last July's death of Thomas, who got into a violent confrontation with police at the Fullerton Transportation Center and was hospitalized for five days before being taken off life support. Thomas' death sparked national news coverage with two officers being the first in Orange County history to be charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with an arrest.
Travis Kiger, a planning commissioner, garnered the highest number of votes to replace Jones for the balance of his term, which ends in November. The other candidates for Jones' post were Glenn Georgieff, an IT specialist; Roberta Reid, a student; Matthew Hakim, a musician and artist; and Dorothy Birsic, who did not list an occupation on her ballot statement.
Doug Chaffee, a business attorney, will replace McKinley for the two and a half years remaining in his term. Chaffee beat out Barry Levinson, an auditor and parks commissioner; Matthew Rowe, an aerospace project manager; and Sean Paden, a construction attorney for the post.
Bankhead will be replaced by businessman Greg Sebourn, who led the vote among Rick Alvarez, a planning commissioner; Paula Williams, who works for Orange County Social Services; and Jane Rands, a systems engineer. Sebourn will also serve for two and a half years.
Critics of the three councilmen complained the trio did little to address the growing public outcry over the way Thomas was beaten. Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva and Councilman Bruce Whitaker were not targets of the recall, in part because they were critical of the way former Police Chief Michael Sellers handled publicity about Thomas' death.
Ironically, one of the most insistent and powerful voices against the three councilmen is someone who couldn't even cast a ballot in the recall election -- the victim's father, Ron Thomas, who lives in Cypress. Still, Thomas worked with Fullerton residents who call themselves Kelly's Army as they organized to oust Bankhead, McKinley and Jones.
``They didn't do anything but sit there with smirks on their faces'' as residents barraged the council and city officials with criticism following Thomas' death, Ron Thomas said.
Bankhead, McKinley and Jones insisted in the days following Thomas' death that it was important for city officials not to comment because it could complicate or hurt the investigations of the officers involved.
``That's all B.S.,'' Ron Thomas said. ``You can't screw up the investigation because they would not have been told anything outside what the parameters of the law provide. Did Bruce (Whitaker) or Sharon (Quirk-Silva) screw up the investigation? No, they made (their concerns) public and said, `Hey, we want answers,' while the other three just sat there and when they did say something what they said was insensitive and nothing constructive.''
Larry Bennett, a planning commissioner who fought the recall, said the three council members, who all have backgrounds in the city's police department, knew that making comments about the case could jeopardize the city's standing in civil lawsuits as well as any criminal investigations of the officers.
Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force in the July 5 beating of the 37-year-old transient.
Bennett accused local developer Tony Bushala of taking advantage of the public unrest after Thomas' death to continue a campaign against the three councilmen. Bushala has primarily bankrolled the recall supporters.
``It's a naked power grab,'' Bennett said of Bushala's support of the recall. ``And he's thrown everything at the wall he can think of to convince voters there's a huge crisis in Fullerton.''
Bushala said he is just a businessman and resident concerned about local issues who supports the recall because he feels the three councilmen failed at a time when the city needed leadership.
``They failed to lead us, especially during a crisis with the Kelly Thomas murder,'' Bushala said. ``It took protests, marching in the streets before they pulled the six officers (involved in Thomas' arrest) off the streets... Yes, I've spent a lot of money and thank God I do. Somebody needs to do this. ... I've done it in the past and I'll continue to do it to shine the light on the hypocrites and corrupt people. I've been an activist my whole life.''
Bushala said his campaign contributions and support of political causes have had nothing to do with his business.
``I've never asked the City Council to do anything special for me,'' Bushala said. ``I'm more concerned with holding our elected officials accountable.''
Bankhead, McKinley and Jones all cited Bushala, without naming him, in their ballot statements.
``Our city is under attack by a local developer who wants to control Fullerton by getting his people on council,'' McKinley, the former police chief, wrote in his ballot statement. ``He has spent almost a quarter-million dollars to recall me. Why? Because I represent the entire city and not just his radical causes.''
Ron Thomas watched the back and forth between Bushala and the council members with some interest, but he said he doesn't have a stake in it.
``It's an ongoing feud, if you will, the Hatfields and McCoys,'' Ron Thomas said. ``But not being a Fullerton resident I don't care about any of those things... I care about my son and justice for him.''
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ Two Southern California police officers were ordered Wednesday to stand trial in the death of a mentally ill homeless man following a violent arrest last summer.
An Orange County Superior Court judge made the ruling after a hearing that included surveillance video of the confrontation between the officers and 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the city of Fullerton.
Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault or battery by a public officer. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The officers confronted Thomas while responding to reports that a homeless man was looking into parked cars at a transit center.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said during the hearing that Officer Manuel Ramos bullied a shirtless with his menacing remarks and aggressive stance _ actions that would have led anyone to fear they were about to get beaten by police.
``Any person, any creature on this earth would have fear at that point,'' Rackauckas told the court during the preliminary hearing.
``You're going to fight or flee because this is an imminent threat of a serious beating by a police officer who is there with a baton and a gun and other police officers.... This is going to be a very bad deal,'' the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys countered that police _ who are authorized and trained to use force when necessary _ viewed the incident as an encounter with a man who refused to give his name and continued to resist arrest even as multiple officers rushed to assist.
The three-day hearing was marked by repeated showing of clips from surveillance video and audio recordings of the confrontation. The footage includes scenes of officers pummeling and pinning down Thomas as he screams that he can't breathe and moans for his father until he goes silent and is taken away by medics, leaving behind a pool of blood.
John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said the video _ which was introduced by the prosecution _ shows that his client made a conditional threat during his conversation with Thomas, stating he wanted the man to start listening and following police orders, such as sitting with his legs stretched out and providing his name to officers.
``All that Kelly Thomas had to do was simply comply,'' Barnett said. ``Officer Ramos just lifts him up, he's going to arrest him. ... Not only can he do it, he must do it. He is bound to do it.''
``Officer Ramos didn't do anything that should or could kill Kelly Thomas,'' Barnett said, pointing out that his client is often seen on the video at the man's feet.
Prosecutors have argued that Ramos punched Thomas in the ribs, tackled him and lay on him to hold him down while Cicinelli _ who arrived later on the scene _ used a Taser four times on Thomas as he hollered in pain and hit him in the face eight times with the Taser.
Thomas lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital. He was taken off life support and died five days later.
The coroner's office found that Thomas died from compression of his chest that made it difficult for him to breathe and deprived his brain of oxygen, and facial injuries stemming from his confrontation with law enforcement.
Cicinelli's attorney Michael Schwartz challenged those findings, noting that testimony by a paramedic who treated Thomas at the scene indicates that Thomas was breathing, although with difficulty, during the confrontation.
Schwartz also defended his client's use of the Taser on Thomas, who was still struggling and resisting officers' efforts to handcuff him, and said Cicinelli only swung the Taser at Thomas' hand when the man made an effort to grab the weapon.
``To call that a crime is to effectively handcuff our police officers out in the field from dealing with any combative suspect,'' Schwartz said.
The hearing in a Santa Ana courtroom was marked by lengthy testimony from medical experts and graphic photos of Thomas' injuries, including multiple bruises and a bloodied eye, while he was lying on the autopsy table.
Attorneys repeatedly played portions of the grainy surveillance video, which was paired with audio from digital recorders worn by some of the officers who were present and which brought some of Thomas' supporters to tears and prompted them to leave the courtroom.
The incident last July prompted an ongoing FBI investigation to determine if Thomas' civil rights were violated, an internal probe by the city, protests by residents and an effort to recall three Fullerton councilmembers that is slated for next month's ballot.
SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 37-year-old Fullerton police officer facing homicide charges in the death of a schizophrenic homeless man pleaded not guilty today, and a judge rejected his bid to lower his $1 million bail.
Officer Manuel Ramos was charged last week with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, who died after a violent confrontation with six officers responding to reports of car burglaries at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the felony charges Thursday. The other four officers involved in Thomas's arrest will not face criminal charges. All six officers are on administrative leave.
Ramos and Cicinelli turned themselves in after the charges were announced and appeared in a downtown Santa Ana courtroom that afternoon. Cicinelli pleaded not guilty, but Ramos' arraignment was postponed until this morning, when a bail-review hearing also was held, climaxing with a ruling that the bail amount would not be reduced at this time.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh set bail at $1 million for Ramos and $25,000 for Cicinelli and ordered them to surrender their weapons. Cicinelli, who posted bail Wednesday, is due back in court Nov. 4. Ramos has been incarcerated at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana, said sheriff's Lt. Mike Peters.
Rackauckas said Ramos, a 10-year Fullerton Police Department veteran, faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Cicinelli, who left the Los Angeles Police Department on disability after losing an eye in a South L.A. shooting in 1996 and who has been a Fullerton officer 12 years, faces up to four years in prison.
Rackauckas said Ramos threatened Thomas during the arrest, put on latex gloves and told the man, ``Now see my fists? They are getting ready to f--- you up." Officers then struck Thomas' head and body as he cried out for his father and told them, ``I'm sorry."
``That declaration was the turning point,'' the district attorney said. ``That was the defining moment. Ramos was telling Kelly Thomas at that moment that this encounter had changed. That it went from a fairly routine police investigation, a fairly routine police detention, to an impending beating by an angry police officer.''
Cicinelli kneed Thomas twice in the head and used his Taser on the man four times, Rackauckas said, adding that the corporal also hit Thomas in the face with the Taser eight times.
``From what's visible on the videotape, Kelly Thomas appeared to be acting in self-defense, in pain and in a state of panic,'' the district attorney said. ``His numerous pleas of `I'm sorry,' `I can't breathe,' `Help,' `Dad,' all to no avail.
``Screams, loud screams, didn't help,'' Rackauckas said. ``Kelly Thomas not responding when the blows to his face occurred -- no help -- (nor) a growing pool of blood as Kelly Thomas became unresponsive.''
Ultimately, Thomas died because of the force of the officers on his chest, which made it impossible to breathe, Rackauckas said. He lost consciousness, slipped into a coma and died when he was taken off life-support five days later.
Ramos' attorney, John D. Barnett, said his client ``is not guilty of murder, manslaughter or any other crime'' and was only trying to ``de-escalate'' the situation when he allegedly shook his fists at Thomas.
The FBI has opened a parallel investigation into whether the officers violated Thomas' civil rights and Fullerton City Council members have hired an independent investigator to do an internal review of the arrest.
Ramos surrendered to district attorney's investigators last Wednesday shortly before Rackauckas announced in a press conference attended by about 200 reporters, prosecutors and others that Ramos had been charged with the second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for his role in Thomas' death.
Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man with a long history of schizophrenia, was beaten and suffocated on July 5 after a scuffle with six policemen near the Fullerton Transportation Center. The 30-minute skirmish was witnessed by several people and captured on surveillance video.
Rackauckas said he made the decision to charge Ramos with murder after he scrutinized evidence gathered by his investigators, who interviewed 151 witnesses, gathered medical records and autopsy results and police reports submitted by the six officers at the scene. He also analyzed the 30-minute video from the bus depot and cell phone videos taken by two witnesses. The D.A. said the totality of the evidence convinced him that Ramos, a 10-year-veteran of the Fullerton Department, "set in motion the events that led to Kelly Thomas' death" by first verbally sparring with the mentally ill man, and then threatening to beat him up.
Ramos snapped on a pair of Latex gloves, leaned over Thomas in menacing manner and made two fists, Rackauckas said, before telling the bewildered homeless man "Now, see my fists? ... They are getting ready to f- you up." That declaration, Rackauckas said, "was a turning point...a defining moment" that led to the beating that resulted in Thomas death."
During the next ten minutes, Rackauckas said, Thomas was tackled, hit with a baton, pinned to the ground, punched repeatedly in the ribs, kneed in the head, Tasered four times and then struck in the face with the Taser device eight times. Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15-years to life if convicted of second-degree murder. A jury could also find him guilty of lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Fullerton Police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, a 12-year veteran of the Fullerton police force, was charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force under color of authority for his role in helping subdue Thomas. Rackauckas said Cicinelli fired his Taser four times into Thomas, and then smashed him in the faces eight times with the butt of his Taser after Thomas became non-responsive.
Fullerton police officers charged in death of Kelly Thomas have made their first court appearance. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli pleaded not guilty today to charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. He was released on $25,000 bail and is due back in court November 4. Arraignment for Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos was continued until Monday. He's being held on $1 million bail.
Thomas' father asked that bail not be reduced based on the "horrific way my son was murdered."
Both officers have been ordered by the court not to be in possession of firearms.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) Two police officers were charged Wednesday in the death of a mentally ill homeless man in Southern California who was beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun during his arrest, authorities said.
Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas after a violent confrontation on July 5 with officers, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference.
Police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force, he said.
Rackauckas said a review of the evidence showed Thomas was acting ``in self-defense, in pain and in a state of panic.''
``His numerous pleas of `I'm sorry,' `I can't breathe,' `Help Dad' (were) all to no avail. Screams, loud screams, didn't help,'' the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor said police officers have a right to use reasonable force in the performance of a lawful duty but citizens have a right to self-defense, even against the police.
Lorie Fridell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, said it is highly unusual for a police officer to be charged with murder.
``It is quite appropriate in such cases to hold officers to account,'' Fridell said. ``Often, however prosecutors will give officers the benefit of the doubt.''
Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, said he was pleased with the charges but still suffers every day as a result of his son's death.
``That's exactly what I hoped for,'' Ron Thomas said of the charges.. ``It makes me feel fantastic that this is happening, it's the justice we need.''
Bill Hadden, an attorney representing Cincinelli, didn't immediately return a call for comment. A call to a home number for Ramos rang unanswered.
Arraignment was scheduled later Wednesday.
Six officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident that occurred while police were investigating reported vehicle break-ins at a transit hub.
Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life support five days later.
Thomas suffered from schizophrenia and lived on the streets even though he received support from family and friends.
Police said Thomas ran when officers tried to search his bag. A struggle followed when they tried to arrest him for investigation of possession of stolen goods.
Video from a bystander's cell phone taken from a distance showed parts of the bloody encounter in which Thomas can be heard screaming for his father.
Surveillance video aboard a bus showed agitated passengers telling the driver that officers beat and repeatedly used a stun gun during the arrest.
After the incident, the police chief went on medical leave and the embattled City Council hired a law enforcement expert to investigate Police Department practices.
Incensed community members held demonstrations and started an effort to recall the mayor and two councilmembers over the incident.
Ron Thomas, the father of the dead man, filed a claim seeking damages from the city.
He has previously released his son's medical records showing Thomas suffered broken bones in his face, choked on his own blood and was repeatedly shocked with two stun guns.
News reports show Cincinelli left the Los Angeles Police Department after losing an eye in 1996 while working as a probationary officer.
Cincinelli, who was 25 at the time, was shot during an on-duty gunfight during a traffic stop less than three weeks after graduating from the Police Academy, according to news accounts.
View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.
Orange County District Attorney has scheduled a press conference at 11AM today about the Kelly Thomas beating case. The official cause of death is expected to be announced as well as possible charges against the Fullerton police officers involved in the altercation. Read more on OC Register.
The night before the press conference, tensions were running high at the Fullerton City Council. Read more on NBC/LA.com
People in the city of Fullerton want answers. Read more on OC Weekly.
Get the latest information about the Kelly Thomas case on KFI AM 640.com
From LOU PONSI, OC REGISTER
A recall campaign targeting three City Council members, accused of protecting the police officers involved in the fatal altercation with a mentally ill homeless man, is about to kick into high gear, an organizer said.
The campaign targets Mayor F. Richard Jones and councilmen Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead.
A poster of Kelly Thomas hangs near the Fullerton Transportation Center's bus depot. The homeless man died after a physical altercation with Fullerton police officers on July 5, causing outrage amongst many in the community.
Recall organizer Chris Thompson, who sits on the
Recall supporters also accuse the three council members of fiscal irresponsibility, voting in favor of what they call an illegal tax on water rates, and supporting the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency, which they say results in less revenue to the general fund.
The recall effort has until Feb.16 to gather 10,554 qualified signatures – 15 percent of Fullerton voters – for each council-member petition. If successful, the three ballot items would be in front of voters in an election; the date has not been determined.
"We have dozens of people who volunteered to gather signatures,” Thompson said. “We will gather the signatures in a fraction of the time that is required.”
The attorney representing the family of Kelly Thomas says he has graphic new evidence detailing the fatal injuries suffered by the 37-year old-during an arrest by Fullerton police last month.
KTLA has obtained an illustration that, according to attorney Garo Mardirossian, proves Thomas died of an assault.
Mardirossian, says he hopes the release of Thomas' medical records will prompt prosecutors to take legal action against the arresting officers. Read the story at KTLA.com
Ron Thomas, Kelly's father and attorney Garo Mardirossian will hold a press conference today at 11am. Stay tuned to KFI for the latest.