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Federal Charges Considered in Homeless Man’s Death

The wrongful death of Kelly Thomas, 37, a mentally ill homeless man, has the FBI reconsidering whether to bring federal civil rights violation charges after two Fullerton, CA police officers were recently acquitted on all state charges. In November 2011, Thomas died following a violent confrontation with police who were videotaped beating him.

Cathy Thomas, Kelly’s mother told reporters, “Part of me died that night. Kelly’s father Ron Thomas, a retired police officer said, “They got away with it. It took everything I had left right out of me.”

Both accused officers were acquitted. Manuel Ramos, 39, was found not guilty of second-degree murder, and Jay Cicinelli, 41, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. Ramos was facing a possible life sentence, while Cicinelli faced up to four years on the most serious charge. A third officer had been charged, but those charges were dismissed following the verdict. The jury deliberated nearly eight hours over two days.

Mr. Thomas suffered catastrophic injuries as police attempted to arrest him at a Fullerton, CA bus stop. Officers were responding to an apparently false call of a homeless person who was jiggling car door handles in a nearby parking lot. Of the six officers caught on tape beating the unarmed man, only three were charged following the district attorney’s investigation.

The autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol were detected in Thomas’ body. The coroner listed the death as a homicide due to asphyxia caused by “mechanical chest compression with blunt cranial-facial injuries sustained during a physical altercation with law enforcement.”

The most damaging evidence presented at trial was a video from a nearby surveillance camera and audio from one of the officer’s microphone. According to the Los Angeles Times as he was:

Tackled, hit with a baton, pinned to the ground, punched repeatedly in the ribs, kneed in the head, Tasered four times and then struck in the face with the Taser device eight times.

Officer Ramos is heard on tape threatening Thomas, “See my fists…. They are getting ready to f–k you up.” Thomas is heard pleading for his life. He apologized and while gasping for breath, implored the officers, “I can’t breathe.”

Thomas is heard calling out for his father, “Dad, help me!”

The beating continued for several more minutes, even after Thomas’ body went limp. Thomas was taken to a local hospital where he died five days later.

The federal government may bring its own criminal charges. An FBI investigation was opened in 2011 pending the outcome of the local prosecution. Thomas’ parents say that their legal avenues are not closed. The civil suit brought by Thomas’ family would only require they prove their case using a lower standard of proof, known as the preponderance of the evidence. In contrast, prosecutors in a criminal case must prove criminal violations “beyond a reasonable doubt”.


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