Fullerton officer charged in beating death gets big L.A. pension
Los Angeles officials are calling for a review of the pension given to one of the two Fullerton police officers charged in the beating death of a homeless man.
Jay Cicinelli, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer who lost an eye when he was shot on the job in 1996 during a routine traffic stop, receives 70% of his salary as a disability pension. City officials approved the large sum because it was unclear at the time whether he could again work in law enforcement.
But Cicinelli soon got a job with the Fullerton Police Department, where he eventually earned $88,544 a year on top of his $39,625 in pension benefits from L.A.
The issue came to the attention of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions Department after Cicinelli’s name surfaced as one of the six officers involved in the incident that led to the death of Kelly Thomas.
That led department staff members to ask the board to review his award. A review would not lead to the pension being eliminated altogether, but it could mean Cicinelli’s benefits would be reduced to 30% of his final salary. The board will vote soon on whether to launch the review.
It’s rare for the board to reduce a pensioner’s benefits: Officials said they have done it 14 times since 1985.
Emails between city staffers obtained by The Times showed that there was concern about Cicinelli’s pension as early as August, after the “John and Ken Show” on KFI-AM (640) disclosed leaked names of the officers involved.
After the Orange County district attorney released the names and the city of Fullerton announced that Cicinelli and Officer Manuel Ramos would be placed on unpaid leave, a Los Angeles police pension department employee wrote in an Oct. 11 email, “We might get some unwanted attention if anybody notices that he will still be getting paid 70% of a P-II salary (tax-free) from LAFPP until we’re allowed to get the Board to address it?”
Cicinelli’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
Cicinelli lost his left eye in the shooting and suffered gastrointestinal injuries and a fractured pelvis, among other injuries. He fought to return to patrol duty despite his injuries, but in the end was awarded a lifetime disability pension of 70% of his salary.
He then worked 12 years with the Fullerton Police Department, where he rose to the rank of corporal.
Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the death of Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia who died after a struggle with six Fullerton officers at the downtown transit center.
Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. The other four officers involved were not charged.
The city of Fullerton placed Cicinelli and Ramos on unpaid leave in October, after the district attorney announced the charges against them. The other officers remain on paid leave pending the outcome of a city-commissioned review of the Police Department.
At the Los Angeles pension disability hearing 13 years ago where Cicinelli was awarded the pension, a commissioner asked, “What are we looking at in the future for this young man that has lost his career? We have no way to determine when somebody takes a gunshot wound in those areas what type of limitations they will have in years to come.”
Then-Chief Bernard C. Parks had opposed the young officer returning to active duty but wrote to the board, “It is my strongly felt position that Officer Jay Cicinelli is deserving of a generous disability pension to assist him in rebuilding his life and providing for his future.”
Staff members recommended a 40% pension, but the board voted to give him 70%.
Pat McKinley, the former Fullerton police chief who now sits on the City Council, told The Times that he had hired Cicinelli at the recommendation of LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Hillman and that Cicinelli underwent psychological testing before being hired.
There has been no suggestion that Cicinelli’s injuries played a role in the Thomas incident.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.