Kelly Thomas Police-Beating Verdict is Cause for Deep Cynicism

The Kelly Thomas case makes it hard to be optimistic about police.

Kelly ThomasRon ThomasSACRAMENTO — I’ve always taken comfort in comedian George Carlin’s quip that “scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” It’s not that cynics want the world to go to that proverbial “hell in a hand basket,” but they’ve been disappointed so many times they’ve lowered their expectations.

This one-time idealist wants to believe that in a free society the rulers are held to the same standards as the ruled, that the public wouldn’t stand for the kind of official brutality that takes place in unfree nations and that juries would punish killers even if they wear a uniform.

Yet over years of writing about policing issues, it’s hard to remain hopeful. No matter how egregious the incident — police gunning down a troubled teen in an empty park, shooting a fleeing suspect in the back, or planting evidence in a car trunk — there’s rarely any punishment. Then there’s the effect of watching the lobbying tactics police unions use in the Capitol to quash modest efforts to boost accountability.

So it wasn’t surprising when, in July 2011, the Fullerton political establishment rushed to the defense of officers who had beaten a 130-pound homeless schizophrenic named Kelly Thomas. The public saw the published photo ofThomas’ horribly swollen and bruised face, yet the mayor went on TV saying he had seen worse injuries in the Vietnam War and that it was unclear what killed Thomas, who died in a hospital days after the whomping.

We also learned that police officers confiscated the video camera of a bystander and were allowed to watch the surveillance video of the incident and essentially get their stories straight before giving their statements. It looked, sadly, like business as usual.

But then something happened to awaken that dormant idealist. Local residents were outraged and began a series of peaceful protests — never mind that the mayor compared them to a lynch mobTwo local businessmen organized and funded a successful recall of council members who they viewed as culpable in downplaying the incident. Then a district attorney with a law-and-order reputation pressed charges against two of the officers, which is a rarity.

The public could see what happened on the released transit-station video: Officer Manuel Ramos confronted Thomas, slipped on a rubber glove and said that he was going to “f---“ him up. Thomas was generally cooperative, yet the painfully long beating and Tasing session began. Thomas begged for his life, but was left in a pool of blood.

There were signs that justice might prevail, but in the ensuing months, the police union helped defeat council reformers. And in the final chapter recently, an Orange County jury issued “not guilty” verdicts for ex-officers Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. The latter already is pushing to be reinstated to the department.

“These peace officers were doing their jobs … they did what they were trained to do,” explained Ramos' attorney, John Barnett. The defense called witnesses — including a Fullerton police training official — who echoed that same point. Police supporters have said these officers were just doing their job. The defense succeeded in portraying Thomas as a potentially violent, drug-abusing homeless man who was not compliant. Now they say we should all just move on. Nothing more to see here.

We all know there are bad apples in every profession. But one can’t have it both ways. This incident either was the result of rogue behavior by officers, as the DA alleged, or is acceptable police procedure, as the defendants claimed. The court decision effectively means the latter.

“We offer our sincerest condolences to the family of Mr. Thomas and wish that this situation never had to occur; however, we believe that the jury made the correct decision in this case …,” said Mike Durant, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a union group that runs a legal-insurance fund that covered the officers’ legal bills. “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

What will that lesson be? It may be hard to believe, but this verdict could leave some observers even less idealistic and more cynical than before.

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  • The Late P Brooks||

    But anything you do which may be construed as a conscious attempt to avoid contact with the police becomes by definition "suspicious" behavior and justification for a Papieren, bitte stop, and an interrogation in which you are required to prove you're not doing anything wrong.

  • Dave Krueger||

    This one-time idealist wants to believe that in a free society the rulers are held to the same standards as the ruled, that the public wouldn’t stand for the kind of official brutality that takes place in unfree nations and that juries would punish killers even if they wear a uniform.

    If you were raised properly, you'd have outgrown that phase by age 10.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    "...and wish that this situation never had to occur;..."

    You guys on here schooled me on the use of the passive tense(?), and now I notice it all the time when pigs get caught being piggish.

    I showed this story to a very apolitical friend of mine and he literally couldn't believe that the cops got off.

    The last we can do is spread the word. If this is being reported nationally anywhere else than I haven't seen it. There are traffic jams in Fort Lee and the forcing of women to buy their own rubbers to get outraged about.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    least......then

  • Loki||

    There are traffic jams in Fort Lee caused by the minions of a Rethuglikkkan governor with 2016 presidential aspirations and the forcing of women to buy their own rubbers Rethuglikkkan war on wymenz to get outraged about.

    PTFY - Proggiefied This For You

  • CE||

    The situation didn't need to occur. The police department could have trained their officers to subdue an unarmed, uncooperative 130 pound suspect in under 15 seconds, with a minimal application of force.

    They're just making excuses. There's never a reason for 6 officers to beat on a guy for 30 minutes, unless they're trying to kill him.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Even trying to kill him isn't an excuse. If they wanted him dead, and were halfway competent thugs, they could have killed him in 2 minutes. They beat on him for 30 minutes because they are sadistic swine.

  • Tamfang||

    The phrase you're groping for is passive voice. The sentence in question is not grammatically passive (like "mistakes were made"), but it's the same kind of weaseling.

  • Ron||

    "Never had to Occur" I just realized they believe this had to happen and therefore justified when in reality it didn't have to occur in the first place. The police need to learn a little restraint or people will quiet restraining themselves.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The defense succeeded in portraying Thomas as a potentially violent, drug-abusing homeless man who was not compliant.

    This is the part that is so galling. The police no longer have any duty to bring suspects in alive, or to preserve life in general.

    Non-compliance, or not complying quickly enough, or not complying as the officer imagines you should comply, results in summary execution.

  • ||

    Exactly. I thought it was the police's job to subdue non-compliant suspects, not kill them. Remember in cop shows when someone would run, and the cops would put down their guns and give chase? I guess that's a fantasy now. Now, it's just shoot them in the back. Non-compliant! Kill!

  • jester||

    They were being filmed. Different behavior patterns emerge.

  • Tamfang||

    You mean, because they were on camera they tased and beat him to death rather than shooting him?

  • some guy||

    There was an article a awhile back by an old, retired police veteran who lamented the fact that police have gradually changed from being "peace officers" to being "law enforcement officers" over the past 4-5 decades. Those two labels and what they imply really say it all.

  • Loki||

    Agreed. Even if he was a "potentially violent, drug-abusing homeless man who was not compliant" that shouldn't matter. They still beat a defenseless unarmed man to death.

    And the whole “These peace officers were doing their jobs … they did what they were trained to do” crap is not exactly reassuring. If that's what cops are trained to do, then we should all be very nervous in any an all interactions with the police.

  • ||

    We should already all be very nervous in any an all interactions with the police. I know I am and avoid them at all costs.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Just don't clench your buttocks.

  • Loki||

    Everytime I see that Kelly Thomas picture it feels like I'm being in the nuts all over again. That and a sudden spike of homicidal rage.

  • Loki||

    *being kicked in the nuts...

    And apparently can't type either. I blame the homicidal rage I was feeling.

  • CE||

    The squirrels tried to take the nuts, but took the kicked instead.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    That and a sudden spike of homicidal rage.

    This. Again and again and again, THIS.

    Every damn time I see the cops getting away with murder, literally, it makes me wish that an angry mob would surround these fucksticks car/house/wherever and beat them into a bloody pulp while the rest of society just sits back and applauds.

    Seriously, these people are oxygen thieves.

  • M. Samuels||

    Looks like Applebee's new Bacon-Chili Burger!

    Mmmmm...bacon...

  • jester||

    It was essentially the same as the Rodney King beating. And the verdict of not guilty spawned from exactly the same tactic of turning the victim into a ne'er-do-well stain on society who had it coming. Sadly, too many Americans give cops the wink to 'take out' undesirables in the community.
    The tactic works because seeing the Mr. Kings and Mr Thomases on the street annoys a lot of people. Dehumanization allows cops to do what they want with their victims and if it ends in death, well, hey, it was just a feral cat, right? It's the recipe for tyranny anywhere and everywhere. We don't even have to mention the guy with the name that starts with an h.

  • Jerryskids||

    Heisenberg?

  • jester||

    No, dummy, Hillary.

  • Mr. Soul||

    Reminds me of the Simpsons, when Sideshow Bob ran for Mayor:

    Because you need me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may move you to vote Democratic, but deep down you long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That's why I did this, to save you from yourselves. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a city to run.

  • David Wall||

    Homeless man with schizophrenia. The police officers involved saw a literal whipping boy with which they could engage their sadistic fantasies with no repercussions: The victim would likely have no family to come to his defense if he died in the attack, and would be certifiably crazy and, therefore, unable to credibly make charges against his attackers if he lived.

    Sickening.

  • Jerryskids||

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    I would go on, but I think you get the point.

    Yes, indeed, this is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge. They already learned the lesson about yelling "Stop resisting!" as they beat the shit out of somebody, this lesson doesn't bode well for us Mundanes, either.

  • Loki||

    “This is a lesson to everyone wearing a badge.”

    What will that lesson be?

    That you and your buddies can beat a man half your size to death on video and the union as well as your "brothers in blue" will have your back. Duh.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    And the verdict of not guilty spawned from exactly the same tactic of turning the victim into a ne'er-do-well stain on society who had it coming.

    I have no doubt whatsoever the defense used some sort of utilitarian "value to society" bullshit argument to make the jurors believe the greater societal good would be harmed by treating Kelly Thomas' life as being of equal value to that of a noble law enforcement officer.

  • Loki||

    Some pigs are more equal than others. Pun intended.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Kelly Thomas' real crime (in life, and in death) was making people feel uncomfortable.

  • M. Samuels||

    Of course the cops are guilty. Look at that photo.
    LOOK AT THAT PHOTO.

  • ||

    I look at that picture of the man's face and I see all I need to know.

    Bunch of cowardly cops beating a man senseless is unacceptable let alone to death like this.

    Sickening that they got off.

  • Cbalducc||

    Do you believe the jury was motivated by fear or hatred of the mentally ill?

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Yes, there were dozens of uniformed cops in the courtroom glaring at the jury. I think fear of the mentally ill is exactly what caused the acquittal.

  • Ron||

    are you referring to the fear the jury had of the mentally ill hatred of the cops who might get even with the jurors if they were found guilty.

  • Eggs Benedict Cumberbund||

    I wonder what the cock suckers at PoliceOne are saying about this?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    They are too busy gagging on each other's cum...

  • ||

    Does anyone dare go on the site and piss on them?

    Still looking at the picture and can't believe the jury didn't convict them.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The Fullerton Fiasco absolutely proves that the wheels of so-called justice are greased with the blood of innocents co-mingled with the antagonist sweat of old-boy networks that run backroom corruption as decidedly as any Iranian torture block.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Perhaps the Fulllerton Chamber of Commerce would like to hear from us? They enjoy feedback about their wonderous city:

    http://fullertonchamber.com/

    Doing commerce in Fullerton? Are you serious?

  • John C. Randolph||

    I'd sooner open a Rolls Royce dealership in Cuba.

    -jcr

  • Ron||

    this essentially gives all police an opening to beat the hell out of anyone anytime they feel like it.

  • MSimon||

    this essentially gives all police an opening to beat the hell out of anyone anytime they feel like it.

    Saving us from the drug menace already did that. People who use drugs are mentally ill dontchaknow?

  • TNelson||

    Sickening. And nothing ever happens. Virtually every beating, every shooting is somehow 'justifiable'. Here in San Jose a while back a cop answered a 'domestic disturbance' and within 30 seconds of entering the home shot and killed a dinky Vietnamese woman in front of her kids. She was in her kitchen and waving a vegetable peeler that apparently looked like a really dangerous weapon. "Justified shooting" Fine officer etc..
    A friend of mine had his head blown off. He *was* clearly nuts and potentially dangerous if he'd been running loose (he had a speargun), and I'd have understood it in that case. But they had him contained in a shop with nobody else and no real firepower, he was no immediate threat to anyone. Wait him out? Wait for him to get hungry or sleepy? Tear gas even? Nope. Not the manly thing to do- let's go in after him and blow him away. Second fatal shooting in six months for this cop. Chief described him as "very steady, very reliable"
    I don't hate cops and I don't want to see any more cop widows and orphans but I'm tired of trigger happy cops and thugs with badges who get away scot free.

  • ||

    I just had an authoritative knock on my apartment door. I opened it up, and there were three cops. I stepped out and pulled in the door behind me. One of them asks if I'm alone in the apartment. I ask why is he asking. He says "because of a situation front of the building". I say (in my pretty thick accent) that I'm entirely alone . He's like what am I saying? I state again that I'm entirely alone. He is still playing dumb when the second cop says "he's saying he's entirely alone". The third cops says "OK, what's your last name?" and has his pen over his notebook. I say "I don't want to answer questions." The first and the third cop give this "hmmm" look. The third cops says OK, am I the person on the lease? I answer yes, and they go away.

    I guess now I'm on their shitlist of local smartasses.

    (I look out on my balcony and there's a bunch of "first responders" giving 1st aid to some guy on the ground (a jumper)? Later on it looks they're taking away someone covered, and there's another covered person on the top of the ground floor extension.)

  • Dalepen||

    When I heard Kelly Thomas cry out 'Dad, help me', I silently cried, thinking, that in some other bizarre set of circumstances, this could have been my grown son. It is beyond my comprehension how two large and muscular police officers could not safely immobilize a 130 pound skinny, nearly naked, man without killing him.

    Over the years, I have grown skeptical of law enforcement's motives for being in this profession. My limited contact with local police has rendered me indifferent to their claims to be 'peace officers." They seem indifferent to crime and in two cases could have cared less to investigate my car theft and another time vandalism to my son's car.

    They seem more like an occupying military than men and women we hire to protect us. I think we can blame the 'war on drugs' and the 'war on terrorists' for this. End these wars and return us to a time when we considered them our protectors and friends.

    I too avoid them as much as possible now. It is heartbreaking in this country to now fear them and to have to fear for my and my family's lives for minor perceived infractions.

  • AgrarianBarbarian||

    I blame Hollywood. The entertainment industry (especially TV) has turned cops into unimpeachable hero-saints, who are even more heroic when they are beating the snot out of some punk who won't "talk"...The rule of law is shown as the villian, and the ultraviolent, maverick, tough-talking cop is shown as morally upright for his illegal entry (whoops! the door was unlocked!), coerced confession (are you gonna talk, or do I hafta...) or surreptitious execution (you think you're gonna get off on a technicality...well, I've got some news for you, punk...). Sure, they'll occassionally toss in the old "corrupt cop" or "authoritarian Captain" subplot, but on the whole, cops are saintly protectors. Seven out of ten prime time dramas are cop shows. Think about that. Cops have the greatest propaganda department in history. No wonder they get away with murder.

  • Wyrd Wulf||

    If you spend any time in a courtroom during a criminal session it is obvious who runs court now - the Police. Most judges have no real backbone and pore sycophantic adoration upon them. Their version of the facts is the gospel. The Feds funnel our tax money to them via "the war on drugs", which is really a war on local civil authority. The jurors, as in this case, are probably afraid to return a guilty verdict in the face of this police presence.

    Also, as an aside, why wasn't there a special prosecutor instead of a local DA who works with these same officers all the time.

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