Transcript offers new details in death of homeless Fullerton man
When a paramedic arrived at the scene of a melee between a mentally ill homeless man and Fullerton police last year, he was told by an officer that a colleague had scratches on his arm.
After treating the officer, Fullerton Fire Department Capt. Ron Stancyk looked to his right and saw a man on the ground who was bloody, unconscious, barely breathing and handcuffed.
That man, he would later learn, was a dying Kelly Thomas, a fixture on the streets of Fullerton.
“The gentleman was on his side, leaning up against a police officer’s leg,” Stancyk testified last month before an Orange County grand jury.
“And what medical attention, if any, was being provided to that individual by anyone?” a prosecutor asked.
“At that point,” Stancyk said, “nothing.”
The scene is recounted in hundreds of pages of grand jury testimony released Thursday. The transcript offers new details on the death of Thomas, whose beating by police at a bus depot rocked Fullerton and led to felony charges against three former police officers.
The latest to be charged, Joseph Wolfe, 37, was indicted by the grand jurors who heard that testimony during three days of closed-door hearings last month. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.
“The evidence in this case, I hate to say it is self-explanatory, but in a big way it is,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told the panel. “And the major part of the evidence in this case is going to be … the video of the incident.”
That video — a synchronization of silent images recorded by a security camera and audio from digital recorders routinely carried by officers — was among 113 exhibits reviewed by the grand jury.
It shows the severe beating Thomas endured in July 2011 as Fullerton officers subdued him after he was stopped for questioning on a routine suspicious person call.
The turning point, Rackauckas told jurors, came when Wolfe found mail in Thomas’ backpack that Wolfe suspected was stolen.
“And then it just escalates,” Rackauckas said.
The video, which has been shown publicly only once, is a raw and at times gruesome recording of the violent confrontation, showing Kelly writhing as he is pounded with fists, batons and the butt of a stun gun. He is heard calling out for help several times. At one point he screams: “Dad, they’re killing me!”
Last September, former Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and then-Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.
Early in the confrontation, Wolfe is the first officer seen on the video striking Thomas with his baton.
But it is when Ramos slipped on a pair of latex gloves and — standing over Thomas — announced that he was going to beat Thomas that his partner Wolfe became a participant in a crime, testified Joseph McNamara, an expert in police ethics and policy.
“And at this point in time, Wolfe is not a spectator,” McNamara said. “This is his partner. He is a participant in this use of excessive force. There is nowhere in professional policing that Ramos’ conduct and words are justified.”
Prosecutors have declined to elaborate why they sought Wolfe’s indictment more than a year after the Ramos and Cicinelli were charged. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Dawn Scruggs, a Fullerton police crime scene investigator, testified that when she arrived at the bus depot, the officers who were involved seemed “to be in shock.”
“He mentioned,” Scruggs said, speaking of Wolfe, “that he just never had anyone fight him like that before.”
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