SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — An eight-woman, four-man jury found two former Fullerton police officers not guilty in the beating death of a homeless man.
After about eight hours of deliberation over two days, former Fullerton police Officer Manuel Ramos and ex-Corporal Jay Cicinelli, a former LAPD officer, were acquitted of all charges in connection with the beating death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011.
Ramos faced charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, the first law enforcement officer in the history of Orange County to be charged with a homicide. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force.
“They got away with murdering my son,” said Cathy Thomas, mother of Kelly Thomas, after the verdict was read.
“Two and a half years and there’s no justice for Kelly, none. He died in vain. And how many others are doing the same thing because they didn’t have a video watching them,” Kelly Thomas supporter Jeanie Dieball said.
Police confronted Thomas at the Fullerton bus depot while investigating a report of someone trying to break into cars.
Immediately after the verdict was read just before 4 p.m., Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes issued the following statement.
“We respect the jury’s verdict, and appreciate the consideration the jury gave to the evidence. We understand that there may be a wide variety of reactions to the verdict and encourage anybody to wishes to express their feelings to do so repectfully.
“Over the course of the past two and a half years the City of Fullerton Police Department has taken significant steps to make it the best department possible. As Fullerton’s new Police Chief, I will make sure those efforts continue so that our police department serves the community with honor, integrity and professionalism.”
Defense attorney John Barnett said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict: “These peace officers were doing their jobs. They were operating as they were trained.”
Ron Thomas, who says he put his life on hold for two and a half years in pursuit of justice for his son, was in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
“I’m feeling horrible. You know, the injustice is just unbelievable,” he said. “Completely innocent on all counts — they brutally beat him to death, we’ve all seen that, but yet they’re innocent on all counts. Unreal.”
The violent arrest, which ultimately involved six officers, was captured on video and audio tape. After the arrest, Thomas never regained consciousness and was taken off life support five days later.
“What this means is that all of us need to be very afraid now,” Ron Thomas said. “Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, do whatever they want because it was proven here today they can get away with it.”
Defense attorneys contended during the trial that Thomas died as the result of an enlarged heart caused by years of drug abuse.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas made the rare decision to prosecute the case himself. After the verdict was read, he said charges will be dropped against Joseph Wolfe, a third former Fullerton police officer awaiting trial.
Dozens of Kelly Thomas supporters gathered Monday night to protest outside the Fullerton Police Department.
Supporter Benjamin Rojas said he couldn’t understand how “the jury did not see the video and realize that this man was murdered.”
Cathy and Ron Thomas walked up to join the demonstration and asked that people protest peacefully.
“It breaks my heart. Part of me died that night with Kelly, part of me died that night, part of me died in court. I feel dead inside,” Cathy Thomas said. “It was murder, they killed my son, the police officers, and got away with it.”
Ron Thomas said, “Even with the verdicts today, I can start getting some closure, and I really need that.”
An FBI spokesperson told CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Stacey Butler that they’ve begun investigating the case to see if Kelly Thomas’ civil rights were violated during the altercation.