Kelly Thomas, OC Homicide No. 43: Cop Accused of Beating Homeless Man to Death

Kelly Thomas was beaten senseless by Fullerton Police officers on July 5, and he was taken off life support five days later.

With the district attorney's announcement Wednesday of a felony murder charge against one cop, Thomas can now be officially added to the Weekly's 2011 homicide count.

He is victim No. 43.

Based on the DA's account:

Around 8:23 p.m. on July 5, Fullerton Police dispatch received a report of a homeless man looking in car windows and pulling on vehicle handles in the Fullerton Transportation Center parking lot near East Santa Fe and South Pomona avenues.

Thumbnail image for manuel-ramos-fullerton-police-kelly-thomas-200.jpg
Officer Manuel Ramos
Dispatch sent Officer Joseph Wolfe and a second officer in a separate patrol vehicle to the scene at 8:34 p.m. The second cop was pulled off the call after Officer Manuel Ramos radioed in to say he was already in the area and would take the lead. Wolfe and Ramos arrived in separate police vehicles at 8:37 p.m.

Ramos and Wolfe confronted Thomas at the center's north bus entrance lane, detaining but not arresting him. Fullerton officers had past contact with the homeless man with mental issues. He was not viewed as a threat before, and on this night he was shirtless, wearing pants with no bulges and carrying a backpack. The officers did not pat him down for weapons.

The cops instructed Thomas to sit on the curb and asked to check his backpack. At 8:42 p.m., Thomas gave the backpack to Wolfe, who stepped to the rear of his patrol vehicle to review the contents while Ramos stayed with Thomas. 

Wolfe determined some mail in backpack belonged to someone other than Thomas. Meanwhile, Ramos, who was about two feet away from Thomas, ordered him to put his legs out straight and place his hands on his knees, instructions Thomas, who was bipolar and schizophrenic, had difficulty following the orders.

Ramos' instructions became increasingly aggressive. He stepped away from Thomas for a moment, walked over to Wolfe 15 feet away, said something to his colleague, and then returned to the homeless man, making a showing of putting on Latex gloves. With a hostile tone, he again ordered Thomas to sit with his hands on his knees and legs outstretched. Thomas would comply with the orders at first but then eventually move his arms behind him to lean on them.

As Wolfe twice called more officers to the scene--a total of six uniformed police ultimately surrounded Thomas--Ramos and Thomas engaged in the following exchange:

Fullterton Transportation Center
Ramos: Put your hands on your fucking knees.

Thomas temporarily complied and then switched positions to be seated upright with his knees bent and his feet flat on the floor. Ramos again barked at Thomas to put his legs out straight and place his hands on his knees.

Thomas: Which is it, dude?
Ramos: Both!
Thomas: I can't do both.
Ramos: Well, you're going to have to learn real quick.

Thomas again tried to comply, but Ramos moved to the homeless man's left side, leaned over in a menacing manner and made two fists with his gloved hands, making a point of showing them to Thomas.

Ramos: Now, see my fists?
Thomas: Yeah. What about them?
Ramos: They are getting ready to fuck you up.
Thomas: Start punching, dude.
Ramos: If you don't fucking start listening.
Thomas: That sucks.
Ramos: Yeah.

Ramos stood back upright until Thomas put his hands behind him on the ground. Ramos then leaned over.

Ramos: Put your fucking hands on your knees.
Thomas: Which is it?

It was at that time, 8:52 p.m., that things would turn ugly. Thomas would take a beating and tasering that would last nine minutes and 40 seconds--until he was handcuffed, ankle retrained and motionless on the ground with six cops using their combined weight to pin him to the ground.

Before Thomas lost consciounsess, he struggled, yelled, and pleaded, "I can't breathe," "I'm sorry, dude," "Please," "Okay, okay," "Dad, dad," and "Dad, help me." He was scared shitless and severely bleeding, but the cops did not back off.

Here's how it went down:

Ramos grabbed Thomas' left arm. Thomas pulled his shoulder back to release Ramos' grip. Ramos reached Thomas' arm, but Thomas swept the officer's hand away with his own and stood up so that he was facing Ramos. The officer removed his baton and Thomas lifted his hands to chest-height, with his palms open in a defensive stance to block Ramos. Thomas began to back away but in no way assaulted Ramos

Wolfe then ran over, drew his baton and continued to approach Thomas as the homeless man backed away. Wolfe struck Thomas' left leg with his baton, and Ramos took a swing with his to the homeless man's left thigh, although it may not have hit.

Thomas turned and ran in front of one of the parked patrol vehicles. As Ramos chased directly after him, Wolfe ran the opposite direction around the back of the patrol vehicle and met Thomas and Ramos on the other side. A physical altercation began. Both officers tackled Thomas. Wolfe kneed and punched Thomas lying on the ground. Ramos punched Thomas several times in the left ribs, using his hands to hold Thomas' neck, and partially lying on Thomas to use his own body weight to pin the victim to the ground. The other officers then arrived.

Police Corporel Jay Cicinelli
Among the first was Fullerton Police Corporal Jay Cicinelli, at 8:54 p.m. With his two colleagues on top of Thomas, and Ramos' arm entangled with the homeless man's, Cicinelli kneed Thomas twice in the head. He tasered Thomas four times, three of these being "drive stuns" that last about five seconds and are directly applied to the skin. The fourth was a dart deployment where two darts connected to wires are ejected from the Taser to skin or clothing, and giving a 12-second jolt. Thomas screamed and yelled in pain.

Cicinelli also used the front end of his Taser to hit Thomas in the head and facial area eight times. Thomas made no audible sound while being hit with the Taser. The last hit from the Taser was the last strike to Thomas.

Officer Kenton Hampton arrived just after Cicinelli. While the other cops were struggling with Thomas, Hampton placed a handcuff around the homeless man's left wrist and assisted with putting hobbling ankle restraints on him. Hampton then used his bare hands to hold Thomas' legs down while the beating and tasering continued.

Two minutes after Cicinelli and Hampton's arrival, Fullerton Police Sergeant Kevin Craig rolled up. He would add his knee to Thomas' shoulder and back area to further minimize the homeless man's movement.

The sixth and final Fullerton Police officer, Corporal James Blatney, arrived at 8:57 p.m. He helped Hampton apply the ankle restraints and hold down Thomas' legs.

The deceased
At 9 p.m., an ambulance and Fullerton Fire Department paramedics arrived. Thomas, who was having trouble breathing, arrived at St. Jude Hospital at 9:19 p.m. He was immediately transferred to UCI Medical Center, arriving there at 10:05 p.m.

He never regained consciousness. Suffering from brain injuries, facial fractures, rib fractures, and extensive bruising and abrasions--and with the agreement of his grief-stricken family--Thomas was taken off life support. He died at UCI Medical Center at 2 p.m. on July 10.

The death certificate from the county coroner lists the manner of death as homicide and the cause of death to be "anoxic encephalopathy with acute bronchopneumonia," (asphyxia) caused by "mechanical chest compression with blunt cranial-facial injuries sustained during physical altercation with law enforcement." The toxicology report shows that Thomas had no illicit drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the incident.

The Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) took over the Fullerton Police Department investigation of Thomas' beating three days before the homeless man died. On Wednesday, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced Ramos, 37 and a 10-year veteran of the Fullerton Police Department, has been charged with felony second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Currently held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail, Ramos faces a maximum state prison sentence of 15 years to life.

The district attorney also announced that Cicinelli, 39 and a 12-year FPD veteran, has been charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. He's out of custody on $25,000 bail and faces four years in state prison if convicted.

Rackauckas said the evidence so far does not support criminal charges against: Wolfe, 36, and a 12-year FPD veteran; Hampton, 41, and a 5-year FPD veteran; Craig, 44, and a 15-year FPD veteran; and Blatney, 42, and an 18-year FPD veteran.


Needless to say, Wednesday was a busy day at the OCDA. What follows on the next page are the statements the agency provided to the media.

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