FBI to revisit fatal beating of California transient after police cleared
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The FBI plans to re-examine the fatal beating of a mentally ill California transient after a jury acquitted two ex-policemen of all charges in connection with his 2011 death, which touched off protests and political upheaval in the city of Fullerton.
An Orange County Superior Court jury in Santa Ana found former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli not guilty on Monday of charges stemming from the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, capping a sensational monthlong trial.
Prosecutors had accused Ramos and Cicinelli, who approached Thomas near a bus depot to question him about reports of vandalized cars, of turning a routine law enforcement encounter into an unnecessary and savage bludgeoning that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.
Ramos, 39, was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, 41, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Defense lawyers won acquittals in the case by arguing at trial that Thomas was dangerous and that the officers responded according to their training. They also said the transient suffered from a weak heart brought on by drug abuse.
"In 2011, the FBI opened an investigation to determine if Mr. Thomas' civil rights were violated during an altercation with Fullerton police officers," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a statement on Tuesday.
"With the conclusion of the state court trial, investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level," Eimiller said.
Thomas' brutal beating as he was subdued by six Fullerton officers was caught on a surveillance camera at the bus station and led to angry street demonstrations in Fullerton, 30 milessoutheast of Los Angeles, as well as the ouster of three city council members in a recall election.
'IT'S NOT OVER'
On the videotape, Ramos is seen strapping latex gloves on his hands, balling them into fists in Thomas's face and telling the drifter, whom he knew from previous encounters: "You see these fists? They are getting ready to f--- you up."
By the end of the tape, Thomas can be heard screaming for help as officers swarm over him, delivering multiple blows and shocks with a stun gun. He is heard calling dozens of times for his father to help him, yelling: "Daddy, they're killing me."
Father Ron Thomas, speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Ramos and Cicinelli and said he would not abandon a civil lawsuit he filed against the officers, Fullerton Police Department and the city.
"It's very important that the federal government find reason to charge them and bring them into federal court," said the elder Thomas, a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy who had earlier described himself as "disgusted" by the verdicts.
"I look at this like a prize fight. It's not over. We still have several rounds to go and we've been stopped so far, but I will not stop until we get justice for Kelly."
An attorney for Ron Thomas, Garo Mardirossian, said he had already subpoenaed all six Fullerton officers involved in the melee to give depositions in the case and would put them on the witness stand in the civil case.
Ramos and Cicinelli did not testify in their own defense during the criminal trial.
The city of Fullerton has already agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas's mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son's death. The victim's parents are divorced and litigating separately.
In 2012, Fullerton's acting chief of police posthumously exonerated Thomas of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation, saying he was cleared of any suspicion that he provoked the violent struggle that led to his death.
(Reporting by Dana Feldman and Dan Whitcomb, writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)