Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos knew Kelly Thomas when he confronted him at a bus depot on July 5.
He knew Thomas was homeless. He knew Thomas was mentally ill. He knew Thomas had a reputation for being non-violent.
So maybe that’s why he thought he could get away with bullying and intimidating and threatening and beating and eventually killing Thomas.
Ramos also knew there was a surveillance camera at the bus depot. He had to know because it was controlled by police dispatchers who had the ability to zoom in close to subjects. The 10-year police veteran was also wearing a police-issued body microphone that recorded every word.
But he didn’t care.
He didn’t care how many people watched as he ordered Thomas to sit on a curb, demanding that he stretch his legs out and place his hands on his knees while his partner emptied the contents of Thomas’ backpack on his squad car.
He didn’t care how many people watched as he slipped on a pair of Latex gloves, then ball his hands into fists and hold them up in front of Thomas’s face when the homeless drifter appeared to have cognitive trouble following his orders.
“Now you see my fists,” he yelled at Thomas, who was sitting passively on the curb, just not with his hands on his knees.
“They’re getting ready to fuck you up,” he said, according to the Orange County Register, which compiled a step-by-step account of how the murder took place that summer night.
Ramos then grabbed Thomas’s arm. Thomas hopped up and took a few steps away, obviously in fear for his life.
Ramos pulled out his baton. Thomas held his hands in front of his face.
“Get on the ground,” Ramos yelled.
Ramos then chased him down a few steps, swinging his baton and tackling Thomas near another curb.
The physical altercation began as Ramos swung his baton and chased Thomas. Ramos punched Thomas several times in the left ribs after tackling him to the ground. He used his hand to hold Thomas’ neck, partially lying on Thomas to use his body weight to pin Thomas to the ground. He held him for other officers, who were responding to the call for help, to use their physical force against Thomas.
Officer Joseph Wolfe, the cop searching Thomas’ backpack for evidence that he was breaking into cars that night (and found none), came running to help pin Thomas down.
Eight minutes after Ramos and Wolfe confronted Thomas, Corporal Jay Cicinelli pulled up in his squad car and began torturing Thomas.
Three other cops arrived, Officer Kenton Hampton, Sgt. Kevin Craig and Cpl. James Blatney and held Thomas down as Cicinelli beat and tased him.
Cpl. Jay Cicinelli arrived at the scene at about 8:45 p.m. He kneed Thomas twice in the head and used his Taser four times on Thomas, including three times as a “drive stun” for about five seconds each. Then, Cicinelli conducted a “dart deployment,” in which two darts connected to wires were ejected from the Taser and affixed to Thomas for roughly 12 seconds. Thomas screamed and yelled in pain while getting shocked by the Taser. Cicinelli then used the front end of the Taser to hit Thomas in the head and facial area eight times, while multiple officers pinned Thomas to the ground with their bodies. All of this happened with no audible sounds from Thomas.
The district attorney’s office compiled this scenario after watching the surveillance video, interviewing 151 witnesses and reviewing footage from two cell phone videos as well as the bus video, meaning there are at least two videos that have not been released to the public.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas determined that Ramos and Cicinelli were the main culprits in Thomas’ death.
Ramos has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntarily manslaughter, which seems a little contradictory. He either meant to kill him or he didn’t.
And it seems as if Cicinelli is getting off easy with charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. After all, he continued beating on Thomas after he had stopped showing signs of life.
But he is already out of jail after pleading not guilty and paying a $25,000 bond. Ramos, on the other hand, remains in jail on a $1 million bond, according to CNN.
And the other four cops are getting off scot-free.
Rackauckas said “the evidence does not show knowing participation in an unlawful act on the part of these officers.”
But he also said these officers held Thomas down while Ramos and Cicinelli beat and tased him.
Anybody else participating in such a mob beating would have been charged with some type of conspiracy or accessory charge, even if all they did was hold the victim down.
So at what point do police officers become liable for their actions? Or in this case, their inaction to stop the other officers from killing Thomas?
Release of the video
The videos still haven’t been released and it appears as if Rackauckas will do all he can to prevent them from being released.
But Thomas’ father, a retired Orange County deputy, plans to file a lawsuit, meaning he will have access to the video as evidence for his own claim.
Ron Thomas has always said he wants the video released. After all, he was the one that released the initial photo of his son bloodied face in a hospital bed that generated so much attention, when the local media had ignored the case in the beginning.
Even if he does try to release the video, Rackauckas or the cops’ attorneys can convince the judge to issue an order forbidding the release the video.
I’m surprised it hasn’t been leaked out by now.
Rackauckas is being praised by the Orange County Weekly as having his “finest moment” at the press conference (check out video in bottom of story).
This is a county where cops, even profoundly warped ones, historically have been given carte blanche. Nobody can remember a single cop ever being charged with unnecessarily killing anyone here in modern times.
So it wasn’t surprising that prior to today’s press conference, not one reporter who routinely covers Rackauckas predicted he’d file charges tougher than assault under color of authority. But the DA stunned everyone. I know firsthand that more than a few of his bitter critics are flabbergasted.
So perhaps Rackauckas is taking baby steps is answering the calls from justice from the people.
This case, as Reason TV explained in its video below, only came to light because the people wouldn’t shut up about it. This was a case study of social media replacing traditional media.
On a local level, social media allowed locals to organize and attend a Fullerton city council meeting demanding answers, which drew the attention of the local media. On the national level, social media drew the attention of the national media and the FBI, which is conducting its own investigation.
Through blogs and Youtube and Twitter and Facebook, we all did our part in spreading the news, forcing our followers to pay attention to this horrific crime that was going unpunished.
Remember, it took a month for the cops to even be placed on paid administrative leave.
Cicinelli was so confident that he would get away with his crime that he bragged about it in the police locker room the following day.
But too many people witnessed what really happened. And at least one police insider watched the video and became extremely upset, calling the local radio station and describing what he saw.
And the locals continued to storm city council meetings and stage weekly protests, demanding justice for Kelly Thomas.
So knowing his career was on the line, Rackauckas was forced to do the right thing.
But he needs to release all the videos and pictures and autopsy reports as well as the personnel records of all the cops involved.
After all, this is just as much our case as it is his.