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Kelly Thomas case: Fullerton chief will defend firing officers

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Ron Thomas, father of Kelly Thomas, is interviewed during a break in the Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday outside of council chambers.
PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

FULLERTON – The police chief said Tuesday night that he will “vigorously defend” his decision to fire three former police officers, two of whom were acquitted of criminal charges by a Superior Court jury in the death of a homeless man. Charges were then dropped against the third officer.

Police Chief Dan Hughes, speaking in front of a packed City Council chambers that included a dozen members of the media, also said he has been cooperating with the FBI, which continues to investigate the incident.

The FBI will decide whether to file charges against the former officers for federal civil rights violations, Hughes said.

Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos and Joe Wolfe, all former officers with the Fullerton department, were fired by Hughes for policy violations after a July 5, 2011, confrontation with transient Kelly Thomas, 37, who died five days later.

All three have appealed their terminations, City Attorney Richard Jones said.

“The criminal case against these former officers has absolutely no impact whatsoever on the decisions I had already made regarding the employment status of these former officers,” Hughes said.

Cicinelli, who along with Ramos was found not guilty on Jan.13, has told the Register he was “wrongfully terminated” and will fight to get his job back.

“I want this community to know that I am confident in the decision-making that I have made regarding these former officers and intend to vigorously defend my position and my decisions in each and every step in the employment grievance process that they have,” the chief said.

City Manager Joe Felz upheld the chief’s decision to fire the officers, who will next state their cases in front of an outside arbitrator, the city attorney said.

The City Council would make the final determination on the status of the former officers, Jones said. If the council upholds the terminations, the former officers would have the option of filing lawsuits for wrongful termination, the city attorney said.

After the chief’s statement, about 50 members of the audience addressed the council, many condemning the verdict in the criminal trial.

“I’m bewildered and frustrated as many people are,” said Jesse La Tour of Fullerton.

Others urged the chief to not re-hire the ex-officers.

Others criticized the actions of the police during a Saturday protest held outside the police station that resulted in 14 arrests. Most of the arrests were for suspicion of disobeying an order to disperse and for vandalism. A woman was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a news videographer.

The comments were mostly civil.

However, Alissa Kokkins of Los Angeles did step to the lectern, turn her back on the council and shout comments to the audience, saying the justice system “is broken.”

After disobeying orders from Mayor Doug Chaffee to speak to the council directly and not face the audience, Chaffee called for a 10-minute break.

After the break, more people spoke.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LOU PONSI AND REBECCA KHEEL/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

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Most arrestees in Kelly Thomas protest from outside city

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A La Habra police office in riot gear stands on Commonwealth Avenue in Downtown Fullerton Saturday after police called for protestors to disperse.
KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

FULLERTON – Of the 14 people arrested during a protest in Fullerton condemning the not-guilty verdicts in the Kelly Thomas case that has garnered national media attention, two live in town, police said.

Of the other dozen, half came from outside Orange County.

About 200 people Saturday showed up at the Fullerton Police Station to protest the Jan. 13 Superior Court verdicts that cleared former Fullerton officers Manual Ramos, 39, and Jay Cicinelli, 41, in the death of Thomas, 37, a homeless man.

The demonstration, which started around 10 a.m. and continued into the evening, was essentially peaceful until protestors assaulted a KCAL-TV videographer. That incident resulted in the arrest of Dianna Jordyan Carroll, 30, of Tustin on suspicion of assault.

“At this point, we had no choice but to step in and issue a dispersal order, declaring the protest an unlawful assembly,” Police Chief Dan Hughes said in a statement. Most demonstrators complied.

Some were arrested on suspicion of failure to disperse, while two were arrested on suspicion of vandalism; another was arrested Sunday on suspicion of robbery.

Police have identified additional suspects from reviewing video footage, police said, and more arrests are likely.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LOU PONSI / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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Kelly Thomas trial: Training officer saw no violations in video

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A security camera captured much of the confrontation between Fullerton police officers and Kelly Thomas at the Fullerton bus depot.
FILE: JOSHUA SUDOCK, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – The training officer for Fullerton police testified Tuesday that he saw nothing contrary to department policy when he watched the video of the fatal encounter between officers and the homeless Kelly Thomas.

Cpl. Stephen Rubio told a jury that he provided use-of-force and tactical training to Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, the two former officers on trial in the death of Thomas.

Rubio said he felt Ramos issued what he called a conditional threat when he snapped on a pair of latex gloves while questioning Thomas in a downtown parking lot and said, “Now see my fists? They’re getting ready to f— you up.” Those words, Rubio said, were intended to get Thomas to comply with Ramos’ lawful orders and were preferable to a physical confrontation.

“The profanity might be a little off-color and maybe a slight policy violation,” Rubio testified. “But if they prevented a use of force … it (was) for the greater good.”

He added that while it is preferable not to use profanity, “sometimes it is necessary to avoid a physical fight.”

Prosecutors contend that Ramos on July 5, 2011, escalated a routine questioning into violence with the gloves and the message that Thomas was about to be beaten.

Within seconds of those comments, Thomas, 37, was taken to the ground, struck with batons and a Taser, and rendered unconscious. He died five days later when life support was removed.

Under cross-examination from Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki, Rubio said it was possible that certain words can create a hostile environment and lead to a physical confrontation. “You are trained not to use threatening words,” he said.

Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, 42, who used a Taser first to jolt a struggling Thomas and then to strike him on his face, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority.

The confrontation was captured by a police surveillance camera mounted on a pole at the Fullerton Transportation Center. The 33-minute video has become the focal point in the trial before Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg.

Defense attorney Michael Schwartz contends Cicinelli resorted to using his Taser to strike Thomas only after the electrical charges did not subdue him and Thomas tried to grab the Taser.

Rubio, under questioning from Schwartz, agreed that it is a dangerous situation when someone attempts to take a weapon during an encounter. “You need to retain your weapon for your own safety and everyone else’s safety,” he said.

Cicinelli’s use of his hard plastic Taser, Rubio added, was consistent with his training and not out of policy.

The trial resumes Wednesday.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LARRY WELBORN   / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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Kelly Thomas trial: Did officers cause death or show restraint?

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During his opening statements in the People v. Ramos and Cicinelli trial, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wields a police baton, demonstrating how he believes Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos threatened Kelly Thomas.
BRUCE CHAMBERS, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – In the span of 30 minutes, Kelly Thomas went from a homeless man “hanging out in his usual spots” on the streets of Fullerton to a victim of unrestrained police violence, lying in a pool of blood in a downtown parking lot, unconscious and dying, Orange County’s district attorney told a jury Monday.

Former officer Manuel Ramos escalated what had been the latest in a string of routine encounters with the mentally ill Thomas into the deadly 2011 confrontation with a “major departure” from proper police training, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in his opening statement at Ramos’ murder trial.

Ramos – among other actions – issued a threat to use his fists “to f— you up,” Rackauckas said.

“It is an important case,” Rackauckas told the jury. “And by the decisions that you make in this case, you’ll be speaking as the voice and conscience of the community.”

But defense attorney John Barnett told the jury that Ramos “showed restraint, tremendous restraint” when he used his streetwise words to get Thomas to “comply with his unquestionably lawful order.”

What Ramos could not predict, Barnett said, was Thomas’ potential for “spontaneous psychotic episodes” and “explosions of violence” caused by years of drug use and alcoholism. Thomas, Barnett said, was no stranger to aggressive encounters with others, including one in which he used a fireplace poker to attack his grandfather.

And the night of July 5, 2011, Barnett said, was one of those explosions. Thomas was taken down and pummeled by first two, then three, and then six Fullerton police officers after he was approached in response to a dispatch call about a homeless man trying the doors of parked cars. Thomas was taken by ambulance unconscious and bleeding to the hospital, where he died five days later after life support was terminated.

CAPTURED ON VIDEO

The confrontation at the Fullerton Transportation Center was captured by a police surveillance video camera and digital audio recorders on the officers’ uniforms. The video will be the key piece of evidence introduced during what is expected to be a six-week jury trial before Superior Court Judge William Froeberg.

Rackauckas has charged Ramos, 39, with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, contending that the 10-year veteran officer set in motion an unprovoked beating in the parking lot of the transportation center and then did nothing to prevent other officers from piling on. Ramos is the first person in Orange County history to be charged with murder while on duty as a uniformed police officer.

Ramos is standing trial with former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 41, charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority for his actions in joining the melee with a Taser, first to try to incapacitate the homeless man and then as a blunt instrument.

Froeberg’s large courtroom on the 10th floor of the county courthouse was packed. More than 120 spectators, including family members and friends of the homeless man and the officers, plus at least two dozen members of the media, filled seats.

Rackauckas, the four-term district attorney, is handling the prosecution personally, with assistance from two top assistants. He is going up against Barnett, perhaps the county’s best-known lawyer, who specializes in defending officers in trouble.

Rackauckas said Thomas pleaded with officers during the encounter about not being able to breathe and repeatedly cried out for help.

“At no time during the entire ordeal did Ramos say to any other officers that maybe Kelly had had enough,” Rackauckas said. “So while Kelly was being hogtied, Ramos remarked there’s f—— blood everywhere.”

“His last words were ‘Dad, they’re killing me dad, they’re killing me, Daddy, Daddy,’ ” the prosecutor told jurors.

Then, Thomas barely pushed out the words “Daddy, Daddy,” Rackauckas said.

Cicinelli, who responded with five officers, zapped Thomas with his stun gun and then used it as a weapon to smash Thomas’ face, Rackauckas said.

The officers unlawfully killed a human being that night, Rackauckas said. “The evidence will make it abundantly clear that the conduct of these two officers went far from what is acceptable in any free society,” he said.

DEFENSE: ‘CHOICES’ LED TO DEATH

When it was his turn, Barnett told the jury, “This case is not about a homeless, harmless, mentally ill guy. This is about a guy who made choices, bad choices, that led to his death.”

Thomas, he said, started using methamphetamine in the 10th grade, and it led him to a life on the streets, wreaking violence on strangers, on his grandfather and on his mother, who once obtained a restraining order against him.

“These are Kelly Thomas’ victims, and these are the people who will show you who the real Kelly Thomas is … who confronted the police officers on July 5,” Barnett said.

Ramos “is not some bully cop,” Barnett said “It’s just exactly the opposite. (The evidence) will show you that not only did he not murder Kelly Thomas, that he did not even kill Kelly Thomas.”

Cicinelli’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, told the jury in his opening statement that police officers committed no crime and that Cicinelli was following police procedures when he tried to restrain a “combative, uncontrolled suspect who grabbed (his) weapon” during the encounter.

Thomas, Schwartz said, was “was not small, he was not meek.”

Schwartz told the jury that a county pathologist changed the cause of death to asphyxiation brought on by chest compressions and facial injuries after prosecutors showed her the video recording of the incident.

But a defense expert will testify, Schwartz said, that Thomas died from a heart attack due to an enlarged heart caused by years of methamphetamine use.

“Kelly Thomas died of cardiac arrest from over-exerting an already diseased heart,” Schwartz said. “He was in a struggle and fight that lasted five full minutes or more and his heart couldn’t take it.

“Sometimes, tragedies happen in this world,” Schwartz said. “They’re not always crimes. This case is a perfect example.”

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LARRY WELBORN and VIK JOLLY  / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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Kelly Thomas: Ex-officers’ trial in death starts today

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Former Fullerton police officers Jay Cicinelli, left, and Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty July 13, 2012, in relation to the beating that led to the death of transient Kelly Thomas in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.
FILE PHOTO: MARK RIGHTMIRE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

A hospital bed image of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man, his face unrecognizable under the bruises, gauze and a tube running from his mouth through his ruffled hair and beard.

A grainy, 33-minute surveillance video of his July 5, 2011, encounter with Fullerton police officers Manuel Anthony Ramos and Jay Patrick Cicinelli that resulted in fatal injuries.

Orange County’s four-time elected district attorney returning to the courtroom as the lead prosecutor, dueling against perhaps the most well-known defense attorney in O.C.

The trial judge – second in seniority in O.C. – presiding over his last major case before he retires in 2014.

Unprecedented demand for press seating in the 120-seat, 10th-floor courtroom.

This case has all that.

After more than two years of hearings, after Fullerton City Council members were recalled, after the Police Department was roiled by months of protests, the much-anticipated trial of two ex-Fullerton officers starts Monday.

At stake will be Ramos and Cicinelli’s freedom.

The two former colleagues are charged with fatally beating Thomas, 37, who was schizophrenic, during an encounter captured on a surveillance video. Thomas died five days later when he was removed from life support.

Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He is the first uniformed officer in Orange County history to be charged with murder for an on-duty incident.

Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery under color of authority.

Prosecuting and defense attorneys have listed 114 potential witnesses, including 27 from the Fullerton Police Department. The trial before Superior Court Judge William Froeberg could take about six weeks.

Froeberg has reserved 22 seats for print, radio and television journalists, including CNN, Fox and Japan’s Fuji TV, and 25 seats each for family members and supporters of Thomas and family members and supporters of Ramos and Cicinelli. The rest of the estimated 120 seats in the Santa Ana courtroom will be available to the public.

Rackauckas in court

The prosecution is led by Tony Rackauckas, Orange County’s district attorney since 1999, the first time in more than a dozen years that he’s personally handled a trial in the courtroom. Rackauckas, a former Superior Court judge, was a top homicide prosecutor in the 1970s and ’80s.

John Barnett, perhaps the county’s best-known defense attorney, is representing Ramos. Barnett has been trying murder cases since the 1970s and won an acquittal in Los Angeles Superior Court for one of the officers charged in the Rodney King beating case, a verdict that set off riots in Los Angeles that resulted in more than 50 deaths.

Michael Schwartz, who specializes in defending police officers, is representing Cicinelli.

The Thomas trial – like the King trial – will likely hinge on how the eight-woman, four-man jury interprets the surveillance video.

Rackauckas contends the video – from a police camera on a pole at the parking lot – shows the unlawful beating of Thomas.

Barnett and Schwartz argue that the video demonstrates the officers were doing their jobs and that Thomas caused the routine encounter to escalate by failing to abide by lawful orders.

The video shows Ramos and third ex-officer Joseph Wolfe – who is charged in a separate grand jury indictment — questioning Thomas after a call came in about a homeless man pulling the doors on locked cars. The questioning lasted about 16 minutes before the encounter turned violent when Wolfe and Ramos tackled the shirtless Thomas after he – among other things – refused to identify himself.

Four other officers, including Cicinelli, arrived and joined in, prosecutors said. Thomas is heard on the videotape screaming for help, yelling that he couldn’t breathe and calling out for his father.

Dissecting the video

Experts say video evidence can be tricky and breaking it down frame by frame – which both sides are likely to do – could yield differing interpretations.

“Each side is going to present a version of what they believe the video portrays,” said Ron Martinelli, a forensic criminologist and police-practices expert based in Temecula.

“The prosecution is going to slow it down and show (certain things) frame by frame,” Martinelli said. “The defense is going to do it all in real time (to say) this was a rapidly evolving situation.”

A video presents problems for the defense, but whether it leads to a conviction is uncertain, said David Sklansky, a professor and expert on criminal law at UC Berkeley.

“Videos can often provide much more information about what happened at a confrontation than the memories of the people who survived and were at the confrontation,” Sklansky said. “There are cases where video is powerful evidence, on balance, for one side or the other.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By VIK JOLLY / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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Jury selected to hear evidence in death of homeless man

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An undated photo shows Kelly Thomas, a local transient. Thomas, 37, was taken off of life support and died five days after a July 5, 2011, struggle with Fullerton police officers.

SANTA ANA – Eight women and four men were sworn in as jurors Tuesday for the trial of two former Fullerton police officers charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man two years ago.

They will be asked to decide if the former policemen are criminally responsible for the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, who died five days after a confrontation July 5, 2011, in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Center.

Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and faces a potential term of 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Ramos is the first policeman in Orange County history to be charged with murder for an on-duty, in-uniform incident.

Prosecutors contend Ramos ignited the fatal fight when he snapped on plastic gloves and told Thomas: “Now see these fists? They are getting ready to f— you up.”

Jay Cicinelli, 42, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. He faces a maximum term of four years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors contend he used unlawful force by using a Taser first to jolt Thomas and then as a weapon to strike the homeless man.

Ramos and Cicinelli have pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys argue that they were properly doing their jobs and that Thomas escalated the situation by refusing to comply with lawful commands.

The incident was captured by a surveillance camera. The 32-minute video will be the key exhibit during the trial.

Superior Court Judge William Froeberg also swore in four alternates – two women and two men – who will hear evidence and be available for deliberations in case a regular juror is replaced.

Opening statements will be delivered Dec. 2. The trial, which could last five to six weeks, will be recessed for two weeks for holidays in late December.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LARRY WELBORN  / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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Trial of former Fullerton officers delayed until December

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Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos is taken into custody after an arraignment hearing in Orange County Superior Court.
PAUL RODRIGUEZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – The opening of the trial for two former Fullerton police officers charged with beating a mentally ill homeless man to death was delayed Friday to early December.

Opening statements are expected Dec. 2 before Superior Court Judge William Froeberg in the trial of former officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli.

Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas, who died five days after a July 5, 2011, confrontation with police in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Center. Ramos could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder; four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority. He could get up to four years in custody if convicted.

Hundreds of prospective jurors have been summoned to Orange County Superior Court on Nov. 4 and 5 for the first round of eliminations to seat a jury in the headline-making case. Orange County’s jury commissioner has been asked to identify 150 candidates who have the time and resources to serve on a jury trial that is expected to last five or six weeks.

Those jurors will return to Froeberg’s court for the final round of jury selection beginning Nov. 18. The court will be in recess during Thanksgiving week.

Prosecutors contend Ramos provoked the beating by snapping on latex gloves and telling Thomas, “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to f— you up,” and that Cicinelli used excessive force with a stun gun when the confrontation escalated into a physical confrontation.

Thomas, 37, was wrestled to the ground, pummeled, struck with a baton and the stun gun, and handcuffed during a 30-minute encounter with police officers as he was being questioned about a report of someone trying to open the doors of parked cars, prosecutors said. The confrontation was captured by a surveillance video camera.

Defense attorneys John Barnett and Michael Schwartz contend that Ramos and Cicinelli were doing their jobs and that Thomas initiated the beating by failing to abide by a lawful order.

A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, 37, was indicted by the Orange County grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force a year after Ramos and Cicinelli were charged. Wolfe has a pretrial hearing Jan. 24.

Source: www.ocregister.com

By LARRY WELBORN  / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.

 

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