Officers on Trial in Killing of Kelly Thomas; First Murder Charge for an Officer in Orange County History


The trial of former Fullerton, California, police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli began December 2, 2013, in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old drifter with schizophrenia. Thomas died after a July, 2011, altercation with six police officers in which he was tasered, beaten with batons, and hit repeatedly in the face with the end of a Taser. Ramos is charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree murder and Cicinelli is charged with excessive force and involuntary manslaughter.

Opening statements from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas detailed Thomas begging the officers to stop.

"He posed no threat at all, to the police or to anyone else," said Rackauckas to jurors. The District Attorney dramatically demonstrated the events of the encounter using a wooden police baton.

Statements from the defense maintained that Ramos and Cicinelli committed no crimes and were dealing with an uncontrollable and violent person. Michael Schwartz, defense attorney for Cicinelli told jurors in his statements that Thomas's behavior "was consistent with someone with a methamphetamine background" and that his death was brought on by drug-induced heart disease.

The toxicology report at the time of the incident found no drugs in Thomas' system.

The trial, taking place at the Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, California, is the first time a uniformed police officer has been charged with murder in the history of the county. The trial may never have happened without a slowly built citizen movement sparked by footage of the beating caught by mobile phone and a horrific hospital photo taken by Kelly Thomas' father, Ron Thomas.

"Nothing was going on, I tried contacting everybody, nobody cared to do anything," said Ron Thomas to Reason TV in 2011. "So, I released the picture of my son [in his hospital bed] and that got everybody's attention. When the cell phone video came out, I released that. The audio had their attention again. You put together the picture with the sound of what's happening [and] it's very, very compelling."

The Fullerton community reacted in outrage at the video and photo at city council meetings and at protests outside the Fullerton police department. Then when city surveillance footage was released of the beating, residents pushed for a recall of city officials.

Video produced by Paul Detrick.

For more Reason TV coverage of the Kelly Thomas story, watch below:

Cops vs. Cameras: The Killing of Kelly Thomas and the Power of New Media

How a Local Blog Broke the Kelly Thomas Story: A conversation with Friends for Fullerton's Future

Outraged Fullerton citizens react to Kelly Thomas beating tape