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With Verdict in Kelly Thomas Case, Authority of Police to Beat People to Bloody Pulp Preserved

Manuel Ramos (left) and Jay Cicinelli (right)

A verdict in the case of a 37-year-old homeless schizophrenic man, who was beaten to death, found two former police officers in Fullerton, California, who were involved in brutalizing him, not guilty.

Former Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos had been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli had been charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use force.

A local bar, Slidebar, reportedly called police notifying police that there was a man outside the patio glaring at customers. Police claim they were notified a person was breaking into cars in a parking lot. Regardless, the police responded and approached Thomas outside the Fullerton Transportation Center in July 2011.

Police had Thomas sit down. Ramos then began to assert his authority over Thomas by ordering him to put his feet out in front of him. He did not obey or did not understand the order. Ramos put latex gloves on his hands.

Once Ramos got Thomas to get into the position he desired, he leaned into him and said, “Do you see my fists?” Thomas said, “Yeah, what about them?” “They’re getting ready to fuck you up,” Ramos replied. To that, Thomas said, “Start punching dude.” And Ramos added, “If you don’t fucking start listening.”

The scene escalated when they got Thomas up and ordered him to the ground. Officers struck him with batons. He cried out in pain as he was being beat by police, “I’m sorry, dude. I’m sorry.” Ramos, on top of him, limited his movement by pinning him to the ground while at the same time ordering him to put his hand behind his back and lay on his stomach. Ramos kicked him as he gave him orders. Soon after, Thomas cried out, “I can’t breathe,” repeatedly.

Cicinelli shouted, “Stop resisting,” and Thomas shouted for his dad. Officers then taser him multiple times and Thomas can be heard screaming and begging for mercy. An officer says, “Choke him out.” He is then beat in the face multiple times with the butt of a taser. “Dad, they’re killing me, dad,” he said moments after.

“We ran out of options so I got to the end of my Taser and I … smashed his face to hell,” Cicinelli said at one point to a fellow officer.

All of this can be recounted because it was captured on surveillance video. It was the focus of much of the trial and part of the outrage against police that led the District Attorney in Orange County to actually take the case to trial. Yet, despite the footage showing clear evidence of brutality, the verdict was still “not guilty.”

The parents of Kelly Thomas understand what this means. “This is carte blanche to police officers to do whatever they want.”

“All of us need to be very afraid now,” he said. “Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, whatever they want, but it has been proven right here today they’ll get away with it.”

Kelly’s mother, Cathy, said, “They got away with murdering my son.”

The outcome means that these arguments from the defense were more credible to the jury than what prosecutors argued—specifically that “Thomas struggled back against officers – who called for backup after striking him repeatedly – and that he succumbed to heart problems due in part to drug use.”

After being beaten severely by police to a degree where one went into a coma, it is hard to believe that anyone with heart problems would not be very close to death. But that would not be because of heart problems. That would be a result of police brutality.

Universally, news reports acknowledged this was a “rare” case for Orange County. A Los Angeles Times report read, “It was a rare case for law-and-order Orange County, and the district attorney had staked his reputation on the outcome.”

It was the first trial of a police officer for murder in the history of Orange County. That suggests, prior to this trial, there has been an awful lot of abuse and brutality, which police have been able to get away with committing.

For example, David Raya, who was twenty-three years-old, was shot and killed by Anaheim police in Orange County. His mother has filed a claim against the city for “wrongful police execution of her son.”

According to the filed claim:

He had run quite a distance … when he was shot and killed by (three) shots in his back…These shots were fired by a city of Anaheim police officer who is a member of the … crime task force, which operates as a death squad, basically shooting and killing persons who are felons or ex-felons and supposedly Hispanic gang members.

This alleged incident took place on August 16, 2011, just months after Thomas was beaten by police. The city has taken no meaningful action. County prosecutors have taken no action. So Raya’s mother decided to sue the city.

The verdict decreases the likelihood that there will be justice for police brutality victims, particularly people who die as a result.

This is what Thomas looked like after being beaten to a pulp.

How could it be justifiable police conduct, especially when police outnumbered and had Thomas pinned down?

Thomas died in the hospital five days later after being taken off life support.

The notion that the use of force by police was a reasonable response is monstrous. It suggests a complete lack of empathy on the part of the jurors. It leads one to believe the jurors had more empathy for police, as the defense justified bashing in Thomas’ skull with the butt of a stun gun.

The verdict disregards the coroner’s report which stated, “Thomas died of asphyxia due to chest compression and injuries to his head and chest during the struggle on July 5, 2011, at the Fullerton Transportation Center.”

It already is tremendously difficult for people of color to win justice in courts when police abuse or kill them. In spite of the existence of shocking video, this was the verdict.

To think that this prominent case is an example where cameras did not matter—what the police had to say ruled the day—that should disturb everyone in this country.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."