SANTA ANA (CBS) —Two Fullerton police officers were charged Wednesday in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the charges Wednesday morning against Fullerton police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, and Officer Manuel Ramos, 37. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. Ramos, 37, was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, according to Rackauckas.
Both men appeared in an Orange County courtroom Wednesday after turning themselves into authorities. Cicinelli pleaded not guilty and is currently free on $25,000 bail. Ramos’ arraignment was postponed until Monday. He is being held on $1 million bail.
The DA’s office has been investigating whether six Fullerton police officers used excessive force when they arrested Thomas, 37, at a bus depot on July 5. All six officers have been placed on administrative leave.
According to Rackauckas, Ramos faces up to 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Cicinelli faces up to four years in prison. He said the charges were needed to maintain public trust in the police department.
“We must do everything that we can to ensure that we protect this trust, including if necessary, prosecuting police officers who violate the law,” the district attorney said.
He noted that Ramos threatened Thomas during the arrest, put on latex gloves and told the man he was going to beat him.
“By making this declaration of violence … Ramos instilled in that victim fear, a reasonable fear for his life, that he was in danger and he was in danger by a police officer who wanted to `f’ him up with his fists,” Rackauckas said.
Cicinelli kneed Thomas twice in the head and used his Taser on the man four times, according to Rackauckas, adding that the corporal also hit Thomas in the head with the Taser.
“Screams, loud screams, didn’t help,” Rackauckas said. “Kelly Thomas not responding when the blows to his face occurred, no help, (nor) a growing pool of blood as Kelly Thomas became unresponsive.”
Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, was put on life support as a result of the beating. He died five days after his arrest.
Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, released a statement following his client’s initial court appearance,”The prosecution’s theory is that Officer Ramos, the initial detaining officer, is responsible for the lethal force employed by responding officers. That is unprecedented in law and, in fact, it will present a sustained prolonged negative effect on public safety because peace officers in the field will be concerned about being prosecuted for murder for simply detaining a violent suspect.”
Fullerton’s police chief, Michael Sellers, was placed on paid medical leave shortly after Thomas’ death.
The FBI has opened a parallel investigation into whether the officers violated Thomas’ civil rights and Fullerton City Council members have also hired an independent investigator to do an internal review of the arrest.
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