Kelly Thomas verdict: anger grows, police chief urges calm
A range of reactions from outrage to measured acceptance poured in Monday after an Orange County jury — after deliberating only hours — found that two former Fullerton police officers were not guilty of beating a homeless man to death.
“I would do the same thing again,” Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said. “I think it’s a matter that a jury had to see.”
Rackauckas, who tried the case himself, said he respected the jury’s decision and moved immediately to dismiss charges against a third officer who was indicted in the case but had yet to be tried.
But Kelly Thomas’ mother and father, who pushed for charging the officers and sat through the three-week trial, said they were left stunned by the verdict.
“They got away with murdering my son,” said Cathy Thomas. “He was so innocent. It just isn’t fair at all.”
Kelly Thomas’ father echoed the sentiment.
“I’ve never seen such a miscarriage of justice,” he said. “It’s so blatant. It means none of us are safe.”
A case seemed to turn on the interpretation of a surveillance tape that captured the violent encounter in a bus depot in downtown Fullerton in the summer of 2011. Prosecutors said the tape essentially showed a homicide taking place; defense attorneys said it showed officers trying to restrain a violent and alarmingly strong homeless man.
Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes urged calm and asked citizens to respect the jury’s verdict. He said the department had taken “significant steps” since the incident to make the police force “the best department possible.”
Still, some members of Occupy L.A. called for a protest Monday night outside the city police headquarters. Several people protested at the courtroom after the verdict.
The ACLU also issued a statement, calling the verdict “disappointing” and a reminder that Fullerton and other cities in Orange County should adopt a civilian police review board as larger cities have done.
At a homeless encampment behind the courthouse, Cindy Vann and James Calhoun said they had been paying close attention to the case.
“Just because they wear a uniform and a badge doesn’t give them the right to beat anybody like that,” Vann said.
“It’s gonna get worse around us,” she added. “If it was us we’d be doing life right now.”
The three-week trial ended quickly and decisively Monday with jurors rejecting second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges against Manuel Ramos and involuntary manslaughter and excessive force charges against Jay Cicinelli.
Both former officers lowered their heads and Cicinelli’s attorney, Mark Schwartz, pounded his fist on the table before hugging his client. Thomas’ family wept softly.
Cicinelli was ecstatic, Schwartz said.
“He was relieved, after 21/2 years of having this over your head,” Schwartz said. “We’re just going to have to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.”
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