Kelly Thomas

Cellphone Justice and the Killing of Kelly Thomas

Fullerton cops go free after beating an innocent man to death.


On January 14, 2014, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, two former police officers in Fullerton, California, were acquitted of manslaughter and second-degree murder charges in the death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old schizophrenic drifter. The two cops brutally beat Thomas at a municipal bus station on July 5, 2011. He died in the hospital five days later, after falling into a coma.

The case drew national attention, and the verdict had led to widespread outrage. But the trial-the first time any police officer has been brought up on murder charges in the history of Orange County-never would have happened if it weren't for a relatively recent innovation: cellphone cameras. A decade ago, Ramos and Cicinelli would probably never have been brought up on charges, and there would be nothing deterring them from committing similar acts in the future, but video evidence from a bystander's phone and a father's snapshot changed the equation.

On the evening of July 5, 2011, the Fullerton Police Department received a call that someone was trying to break into cars at the town bus depot. Ramos and another officer arrived on the scene and encountered Thomas, a mentally ill local who Ramos had met before. (Thomas wasn't breaking into any vehicles.) When Thomas didn't obey Ramos' commands to put his hands on his knees, Ramos started swinging his baton at his legs. Soon six officers, including Cicinelli, were on the scene, crushing and pounding the unarmed man. Cicinelli later recounted that he hit Thomas' face 20 times with a Taser.

The blurry video shows Thomas pleading with the officers to spare his life. The recording captures Thomas calling out to his father for help: "Dad, dad!" At a demonstration outside the Fullerton Police Department weeks later, one protestor told Reason TV, "You actually hear him calling out for his dad. It definitely did something to my heart hearing and seeing that."

After initial interest the media stopped covering the story. Local reporters lean heavily on public information officers when reporting on crimes, and the Fullerton Police Department released only sparse details about the incident. "Nobody wanted to pick it up," says Kelly's father, Ron Thomas.

So Thomas snapped a horrifying photo of his son in the hospital still fighting for his life. "I don't know why I did it," he says. "I just felt like I needed to take pictures." Thomas then passed along that photo to a local blog called Friends of Fullerton. He also shared footage of the incident given to him by a bystander who shot it. The video and picture went viral.

The Fullerton community erupted, staging several large protests in which demonstrators held up photos of Thomas' face. "It's just as wrong with or without the picture," said one protester, "but sometimes a picture helps people realize what happened."

On September 21, 2011, the Orange County District Attorney's Office filed criminal charges against Ramos and Cicinelli. The D.A.'s office supplemented the cellphone recording with video from a city surveillance camera, plus footage from belt recorders that the six officers were wearing that night.

At the trial, the defense maintained that Thomas had an enlarged heart, that he had died from overexerting himself, that the use of force was justified, and that the hospital photo taken by his father showed just superficial bruising-explanations that apparently convinced the jury.

Absent federal charges, which the U.S. Department of Justice is mulling, the killers of Kelly Thomas were set free. But cops everywhere won't forget that the next time they respond to a call the whole world may be watching.

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  1. “It’s just as wrong with or without the picture,” said one protester, “but sometimes a picture helps people realize what happened.”

    Hence law enforcement professionals’ war on recordings.

    1. The only thing recordings seem to have done is made prosecutors say, “It was more complicated than what is on the video…” as they decline to press charges.

  2. Just reading about this again and I can feel the adrenalin rising. The word infuriating doesn’t even begin to get at it.
    [and a silent thanks to the squirrels for returning]

  3. But cops everywhere won’t forget that the next time they respond to a call the whole world may be watching.

    They won’t care.

    1. Not until people stand up to them. Bullies back down when they get their asses kicked.

      1. If people stand up to them, they’ll call in reinforcements. If more people stand up to them, they’ll call in reinforcements from other departments. If more people stand up to them, they’ll call in the National Guard. They’ll nuke a whole fucking city if they have to. Government must be the last word in violence, or it isn’t government.

        1. so… just sit back and take it because there’s nothing else you can do?

          1. Resistance is fatal.

            1. Better to die on your feet…

              1. Eventually people do get pushed too far.

                Like it or not a lot of people still look at the cops as heroes. The best way to fight back right now is to make sure as many people hear these stories as possible, and change that public perception.

                Once the public no longer sees cops as heroes, but as the brutal thugs they are, then things will change.

        2. That would explain all the mushroom clouds that accompanied the Civil Rights movement.

          1. Because cops were being beaten and killed during the Civil Rights movement.

            Oh, wait. It was the cops who were doing the beating and the killing.

            Derpidy doo!

            1. But there were no mushroom clouds

              Derpidy doo!

  4. Mood music.

    I used to think that this album was over the top. Not any more.

  5. So it was Kelly Thomas’ fault he died?

    If people see cops brutally beating a defenseless person and decide to go and deal street justice on those pigs, I hope they get found “not guilty” as well because it would be the pigs’ own fault they were beaten (hopefully to death).

  6. But cops everywhere won’t forget that the next time they respond to a call the whole world may be watching.

    You know what else officers don’t forget? That you can beat and shoot people to death while the cameras roll and nothing else happens. That’s the real lesson they’re learning.

    1. Er well there was a trial. That’s half the point of the article.

  7. This…

    … police may use such coercive methods provided that the suspect turns out to be guilty, and provided that the police are treated as themselves criminal if the suspect is not proven guilty

    The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 12 (bold emphasis added)

  8. The Rodney King beating was caught on video- the entire world (except perhaps a few places who didn’t have television) watched LAPD cops beat Mr. King- and yet, a jury found them not guilty. Only after the feds stepped in did anyone of those thugs face punishment.

    Two LAPD cops, James Nichols and Luis Valenzuela, rape prostitutes with impunity and are still employed by the LA-effing-PD- even as the non violent, non abusive clients, employers and associates of sex workers are threatened with 15 years to life sentences under the hideous prop 35 which turns a pimping and pandering charge into ‘sex trafficking’- regardless of the age or consent of the ‘victim.’

    Cops rape children and get probation- as did Pike County Ohio Chief Deputy Clyde Franklin Sanders Jr. who plead guilty to raping a three year old girl- twice- and was sentenced to “community control” with NO prison time OR sex offender registry. A long and disturbing list of other pedophile cops can be found here: http://www.policeprostitutiona…..&Itemid=50 and here: http://www.policeprostitutiona…..&Itemid=50

  9. I miss Dorner..

  10. It is going to get to the point where family members are probably going to take the law into their own hands and not trust the system when it comes to police misconduct.

    That’s when the police state will really kick in.

  11. “Once the public no longer sees cops as heroes, but as the brutal thugs they are, then things will change.”

    So the actions of some dickheads makes all cops brutal thugs? Most of the cops I know would be disgusted by this. The men responsible for this are brutal thugs. Do not lump me in with them.

    1. Why not?

      Condemnation from within the ranks? Nonexistent.

  12. Found these murder’s info online. Its the job of every patriot to defend freedom and root out tirants
    Jay Cicinelli Wife: Trina (maiden name Pfister)
    Address: 13127 Los Alisos St, La Mirada, CA
    Phone: (562)943-1240
    Wife’s Email:
    Works at Whittier Christian Academy
    Manuel Ramos
    Phone: (951)220-7009
    Address:13427 Cascade Ct Corona, CA 92880-8892
    Parents Address: 231 W Glenwood Ave. Fullerton, CA 92832-1227
    Eric Michael Foster
    Phone: 405-685-8779
    Address: 1411 SW 58th St, Oklahoma City, OK 73119-7203
    Facebook Eric Foster:
    Kelton Montel Hayes
    Phone: 405-282-2636
    Address: 3051 W County Rd 75, Guthrie, Ok 73044-9738
    Address: 5150 Fawn Run, Guthrie, OK 73044 Birth date: 12/18/1983
    Jay Cicinelli Wife: Trina (maiden name Pfister)
    Address: 13127 Los Alisos St, La Mirada, CA
    Phone: (562)943-1240
    Manuel Ramos Phone: (951)220-7009
    Address:13427 Cascade Ct Corona, CA 92880-

  13. they got off on a technicality. The defense was able to persuade the jury that it was inadequacy medical care which killed Kelly. They had the best attorney in So Cal use San Diego doctors at UCSD to testify that the trach line was put down too deep and did not supply enough air to Kelly. THIS IS BS, they got off on a technicality. They beat this man half to death then found a loop hole!! they are murders any way you slice it. THEY MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN OFF, BUT THEY WILL NEVER BE FREE!! SPREAD THEIR INFO EVERYWHERE. Spend a little bit of time to do your part and spread this info for Kelly and for your own freedom.

  14. video evidence from a bystander’s phone and a father’s

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