Police acquitted in death of homeless man in US
SANTA ANA, California (AP) — By the time all four verdicts were read acquitting two California officers of killing a homeless man, people on both sides were sobbing.
Kelly Thomas, 37, died five days after a violent confrontation with six officers in July 2011. A surveillance camera captured him screaming for his father and begging for air as the police kneed him, jolted him with an electric stun gun and used the blunt end to strike him around the face and head.
It was a rare case in which police officers were charged in a death involving actions on duty. Thomas’ death led to days of protests, forced the recall of three City Council members and led the police chief to step down.
Former Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, was acquitted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter on Monday. Former Officer Jay Cicinelli, 41, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.
The FBI said it will review the evidence to determine whether federal action is justified.
Outside court, Thomas’ parents condemned the verdicts.
“Just horrified,” Cathy Thomas said. “He got away with murdering my son.”
Ron Thomas has said his son suffered from schizophrenia and didn’t understand the officers.
Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, said jurors did their duty. “They were operating as they were trained, and they had no malice in their hearts.”
The defense said Thomas started the confrontation by refusing to heed police orders and was fighting officers so much that they called for backup multiple times. At one point, the lawyers said, Thomas tried to reach for Cicinelli’s stun gun.
The video began with Ramos stopping Thomas on July 5, 2011, after the officer answered a call about a disheveled man jiggling the handles of car doors in a busy parking lot.
Ramos grew frustrated with Thomas, who wasn’t following orders to sit on a curb with his hands on his knees.
Ramos snapped on plastic gloves, made two fists and then held them in front of Thomas’ face as he said, “Now see these fists? They’re going to (expletive) you up.”
Cicinelli, who arrived a few moments later, jolted Thomas several times with an electric stun gun and used the butt end to hit Thomas in the head and face, breaking bones.
Thomas was taken off life support five days later.
A county pathologist concluded that Thomas died, in part, from asphyxiation caused by injuries he received during the confrontation.
Defense attorneys said Thomas suffered from an enlarged heart from drug abuse, and his exertions during the struggle were too much for him.
Only a handful of police officers nationwide have been charged with murder for actions taken while on duty, and convictions in those cases are rare, said Lawrence Rosenthal, a law professor at Chapman University School of Law and a former federal prosecutor.
Unless the prosecution can prove the officers falsified reports or covered up evidence, jurors are usually willing to acquit, he said.
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin, Raquel Maria Dillon and Robert Jablon contributed to this report.