SANTA ANA (Reuters) - A judge ordered two Southern California policemen on Tuesday to stand trial on homicide charges in the death of a schizophrenic homeless man who was beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by a group of officers last July.
The fatal confrontation between police in Fullerton, California, 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and 37-year-old Kelly Thomas was caught on videotape and touched off a series of protests in the city.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, faces a maximum penalty of 15 years to life in prison if found guilty.
The second officer, Corporal Jay Cicinelli, 40, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and the use of excessive force. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted. Both officers have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors said the pair turned a routine police encounter with Thomas into an unnecessary and savage beating that cost the unarmed drifter, the son of a former sheriff’s deputy, his life.
Judge Walter Schwarm said he based his ruling on “the totality of the evidence in this case,” including a video and audio recording of the incident that showed Thomas lying on the ground screaming, “They’re killing me,” as several officers swarmed over him, delivering repeated blows and Taser shocks.
Both men, who remain on unpaid leave and are free on bond, sat motionless and stared straight ahead, showing no emotion, as the judge said he found sufficient evidence to order them tried on all charges in the case. Thomas’ father fought back tears as his face grew visibly red.
Reporting by Tori Richards; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston