Story Summary

Kelly Thomas Fatal Beating Trial

Kelly Thomas, 37, died after a violent confrontation with Fullerton police officers Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos.

The incident was caught on video and raised questions about how police deal with the homeless and mentally ill.

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This story has 9 updates

Emotions continued to run high in Fullerton on Tuesday, days after two former police officers were found not guilty on all charges in the beating death of a 37-year-old homeless man.

At a contentious City Council meeting Tuesday night, dozens of people expressed outrage over the acquittal of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, who were accused of causing the death of Kelly Thomas.

filephoto Kelly Thomas

File photo of Kelly Thomas.

Charges against a third former officer, Joseph Wolfe, were dropped after the trial of Ramos and Cicinelli.

Many who attended the council meeting also objected to Cicinelli’s reported desire to be re-hired by the Fullerton Police Department. After Cicinelli meets with an outside arbitrator, council members are expected to decide whether the former police corporal gets his job back.

“He isn’t an officer of the law. He never was an officer of the law,” said protester Christine Browning. “He was a cop with a god complex.”

Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, has also been outspoken since the verdicts were handed down. Outside the City Council chambers Tuesday night, he encouraged demonstrators to protest peacefully.

Fourteen people were arrested Saturday in front of Fullerton police headquarters, where a rally for justice for Kelly Thomas was held.

Adam Alder, who attended the rally, said some officers there were taunting protesters.

One officer said, “‘I’ve got two words for you: Not guilty. Ha ha ha ha,’” Alder said. “So it just puts it into perspective that when these cops know that they’re not going to be found guilty, they know that the system is rigged in their favor, for whatever reason. They have a free reign, carte blanche, to do whatever they need to do, whatever they want to do.”

Fullerton police Chief Dan Hughes said he stands by his decision in July 2011 to fire all three officers for department policy violations. Hughes said he is still cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is also investigating Thomas’ death.

KTLA’s Kacey Montoya contributed to this report.

Kimberly Chang reports from Fullerton for the KTLA 5 News at 10 on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

One of the former Fullerton police officers who were found not guilty in the beating death of Kelly Thomas hopes to again begin policing with the Orange County city.


Fullerton police officer Jay Cicinelli listens to witness testimony during a preliminary hearing on May 7, 2012, in Santa Ana. (Credit: Pool via Getty Images)

In the quickly reached verdict concluding a case that drew national attention, Jay Cicinelli on Monday was acquitted by a Santa Ana jury of charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.

On Tuesday, he told the Orange County Register he wants to return to his job and plans to pursue legal means to do so.

“I was wrongfully terminated. How do you argue with a jury of 12 who all agree on the same thing?” Cicinelli told the newspaper. “They sat through the whole trial and heard all the facts.”

The former police corporal had been charged alongside ex-Officer Manuel Ramos, who was acquitted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Both officers were terminated by the Fullerton Police Department after Thomas’ death, which was caused by asphyxia due to chest compression and injuries to the head and chest during the struggle on July 5, 2011, according to a coroner’s report.

Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia, died five days after the altercation without having regained consciousness.

Attorneys for Cicinelli and Ramos had argued the men were doing their jobs, as trained, in the course of the altercation, and that Thomas had struggled with the officers. Cicinelli’s training officer had also testified that the men’s tactics were within department guidelines.

Cicinelli had arrived on the scene at the Fullerton Transportation Center after Ramos and another officer were already holding Thomas down. Video and audio recordings of the scene — played for the jury and repeatedly by news media — showed Thomas pleading for his life and calling for his father.

Cicinelli was accused of repeatedly using the butt of his Taser to beat Thomas’ face, which he described in a recording from the scene as “smashing his face to hell.”

Cicinelli told the Orange County Register he understands the anger of Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, a former sheriff’s deputy.

Ron Thomas on Tuesday said he hopes a federal investigation results in civil rights charges against the officers, and he was continuing to pursue a civil lawsuit against the city.

“I understand where he is coming from,” Cicinelli said, according to The Register. “I’m a father.”

Michael Schwartz, Cicinelli’s attorney, described his client recently saving a man from choking on a piece of pizza.

“Jay jumped up and Jay was the one with the Heimlich maneuver,” Schwartz said. “He reacts appropriately. He’s a Johnny-on-the-spot to help people.”

The process to get Cicinelli his position again was begun before the trial, but it was essentially on hold pending the outcome of the court case, said another of his attorneys, Zachery Lopes.

Cicinelli’s identity is very much wrapped up in being a police officer, Schwartz said, but it will not be simple for him to return to the Fullerton Police Department.

“The reality is it’s a pretty big uphill battle,” Schwartz said.

KTLA’s Chip Yost contributed to this article.

The day after two former Fullerton police officers were acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, his father said he supports a federal examination of the case while continuing to pursue a civil lawsuit.

filephoto ron thomas kelly fullerton police

Ron Thomas talks outside the Fullerton Police Department on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

The U.S. Justice Department plans to examine evidence and testimony in the closely watched case, Ron Thomas said he was told.

A Santa Ana jury on Monday found Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli not guilty in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless man who was fatally injured in an encounter with officers on July 5, 2011, at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

The FBI had opened an investigation into the case in 2011 to determine if Kelly Thomas’ civil rights were violated. Now investigators planned to look at the court case “to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level,” an FBI spokeswoman said Monday.

Thomas said he hopes the former officers will face federal charges of violating his son’s civil rights.

“They should not be able to walk free,” he said in an interview Tuesday morning. “My son was … fine before Ramos showed up. And just minutes later my son was brutally beaten to death. That’s not right at all.”

Ron Thomas said he had prepared himself “for the worst,” so he was not shocked by Monday’s verdict.

“It’s never been done before – especially in Orange County – to find on-duty officers guilty of murder,” he said. “But to have all counts dropped – they weren’t even in violation of excessive force – that was just unimaginable to me.”

In an afternoon news conference at the Los Angeles office of his attorney, Garo Mardirossian, Thomas said the family most wants to see the officers appear in federal court. Thomas said that until the verdict came down, he hadn’t given much thought to a civil lawsuit he filed in 2012.

“It’s not over. We still have several rounds to go,” Thomas said. “I will not stop until we get justice for Kelly.”

At the 40-minute news conference, Mardirossian played audio and surveillance video of the beating that had been shown to jurors and was at the center of the trial. The attorney noted the number of times that Thomas had apologized to officers, begged for his life and called for his father.


Surrounded by photos and surveillance video, attorney Garo Mardirossian and Ron Thomas discuss a civil lawsuit against the officers who were found not guilty in Kelly Thomas’ beating death. The news conference took place at Mardirossian’s office in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Mardirossian said he would require the officers to take the stand in a civil trial. Ramos and Cicinelli did not testify during the criminal proceedings.

“These ex-cops are ex-cops for a reason. They’re no longer with the force; they should never be with another force because they’re a danger to the public,” Mardirossian said.

Asked in the interview earlier why he thought the defendants were acquitted despite evidence such as the recordings, Ron Thomas said, “the defense is under no obligation at all to tell the truth.”

He noted there is no proof that his son has ever done drugs, despite defense claims that Kelly Thomas was a “chronic meth user.”

“He’s never failed a drug test in his life. But they were allowed to do that kind of thing,” Ron Thomas said.

After the jury announced its verdict, attorney John D. Barnett, who represented Ramos, addressed the media outside the courtroom.

filephoto Kelly Thomas

File photo of Kelly Thomas.

“These police officers were doing their jobs,” Barnett said. “They were operating as they were trained and they had no malice in their hearts. They were not out to get somebody that night. They were working, and they did what they were trained to do, and they committed no crime.”

Barnett was able to convince jurors of his client’s innocence by being “very theatrical, very dramatic,” Ron Thomas said.

Does Thomas agree with those who have criticized Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for prosecuting the case himself?

“There are probably other litigators that could’ve been more aggressive,” he said. “I think Tony did the best job that he could, though.”

At the news conference, Thomas said he had a bad feeling about the trial beginning with opening statements.

KTLA’s Eric Spillman and Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.

In a quickly reached verdict, jurors found two former Fullerton police officers accused in the 2011 beating death of a 37-year-old homeless man not guilty on all charges on Monday.

filephoto manuel ramos jay cicinelli kelly thomas trial

File photos of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli in court.

Former Officer Manuel Ramos and ex-Corporal Jay Cicinelli were accused of causing the death of Kelly Thomas in a violent struggle in the Orange County college town, prompting angry protests and closely watched criminal proceedings.

A coroner’s report stated Thomas died of asphyxia due to chest compression and injuries to his head and chest during the struggle on July 5, 2011, at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

“I’m just horrified. They got away with murdering my son,” said Thomas’ mother Cathy Thomas, after the verdict was read. “It’s just not fair. I guess … it’s legal to go out and kill now.”

The prosecution had argued that officers’ beating of Thomas was unwarranted and that Thomas was not a threat to police.

Defense attorneys responded that Thomas struggled back against officers – who called for backup after striking him repeatedly – and that he succumbed to heart problems due in part to drug use.

Opening statements began in the Santa Ana courtroom on Dec. 2, 2013, and the jury was handed the case on Thursday, Jan. 9. No deliberations took place Friday, meaning the jury had not met for a full day before reaching a conclusion.

The verdict was read back just before 4 p.m. Monday, with Cicinelli and Ramos not guilty on all counts. Each man embraced his respective lawyer after learning his fate.

Ramos faced the more serious charge of second-degree murder, along with involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.

filephoto Kelly Thomas

File photo of Kelly Thomas.

Ramos could have faced up to 15 years in prison; Cicinelli faced four years.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas made the unusual choice to argue the case himself instead of assigning a deputy prosecutor the task. It was his first jury trial since 1999.

At the center of the trial was a 30-minute black-and-white surveillance video – and audio from officers’ recording devices – that showed a routine patrol stop escalate into a brutally violent confrontation.

An employee of a nearby bar had called police, saying a man was in the parking lot trying to break into cars.

Ramos responded and was the first to make contact with Thomas. His attorney, John Barnett, argued that Ramos had tried to use verbal threats against Thomas to avoid a physical confrontation and had used his police training correctly.


Surveillance video captured the violent confrontation between police and Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011.

“See my fists? They’re getting ready to [expletive] you up,” Ramos can be heard saying to Thomas in the recording. Ramos made a show of putting on rubber gloves.

Cicinelli arrived when Ramos and another officer were already struggling with Thomas after swinging their batons at him. Cicinelli joined in the fray, pulling out his Taser to stun Thomas, and then bashing him in the face with the butt of the stun gun.

During the fight, Thomas cried out repeatedly for his father, saying he could not breathe.

“Dad, they are killing me,” were among his last words, the recording shows.

The struggle left a pool of blood on the ground after paramedics responded, taking Thomas to a hospital.

After the verdict was read Monday, Thomas’ father, a former sheriff’s deputy, spoke to news media and reacted angrily.

“What was he doing but begging for his life that he deserved to get beat in the face with a deadly weapon?” Ron Thomas said. “They never said, ‘Kelly, have you had enough?’ He would have certainly said ‘yes’ because he was begging for his life.”

Thomas was removed from life support and died five days after the encounter. Seen with a bloodied and battered face in photos from the hospital, Thomas had never regained consciousness.

A chronically homeless man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Thomas was seen regularly in the area where he was beaten. He had had multiple previous encounters with Ramos that were detailed by attorneys.

Defense attorneys had described Thomas’ violent encounters with family members and drug use that began when he was a teenager.

There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Thomas’ body at the time of his death, a coroner’s report stated.

A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, was indicted in September 2012 on one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. He faced a separate trial, but Rackauckas said the charges against Wolfe will be dropped in light on Monday’s verdict.

“I have no reason to believe it was not a fair jury and… frankly, it does not make sense to me to continue to pursue the additional officer who’s out there whose conduct was not as reprehensible as Manuel Ramos’ conduct,” Rackauckas said at a news conference following the verdicts..

In a written statement that noted “significant steps” taken in the Fullerton Police Department since Thomas’ death, Chief Dan Hughes said, “We respect the jury’s verdict.”

“We understand that there may be a wide variety of reactions to the verdict and encourage anybody who wishes to express their feelings to do so respectfully,” said Hughes, a veteran of the department who took over leadership in 2013.

The fates of two former Fullerton police officers accused in the beating death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas were in the hands of a jury Thursday after closing arguments ended in the trial.


Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas delivers his closing statement on Jan. 7, 2014, in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.

Manuel Ramos has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the July 5, 2011 beating, while Jay Cicinelli has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Ramos faces the more serious charge because prosecutors have argued that he sent the whole incident into motion when he threatened Thomas.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas delivered his final closing arguments Thursday before the jury began deliberations.

The closing arguments in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused in the beating death of Kelly Thomas continued for a second straight day in a Santa Ana court room on Wednesday.

filephoto manuel ramos jay cicinelli kelly thomas trial

File photo of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli in court.

While the first day’s closing arguments centered mostly around the prosecution, the second day focused mostly on the defense attorneys, who finished their statements at the end of the day.

Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos have both been charged in connection with the fatal beating of Thomas.

Ramos faces the most serious charge of second-degree murder. That charge is based on the prosecution’s theory that Ramos sent the whole incident with Thomas into motion when he made a fist and threatened Thomas.

Defense attorneys countered the prosecution’s claim and said that it was a conditional threat. They brought up audio evidence of a previous encounter between Ramos and Thomas where they claimed Ramos had made a similar threat, but with a baton.

In that encounter, Ramos asked Thomas whether he had ever been hit with one before, the defense said. John Barnett, Ramos’ attorney, said it was a similar implied threat and that Ramos had been trying to get Thomas to comply. That incident, the defense noted, did not end in violence.

The defense suggested that the threat was the same as the one with the baton. Barnett brought out a baton to demonstrate during his closing arguments.

“If I point to my baton and say ‘have you been hit with one of these before?’–with the clear implication that you might get hit now if you don’t do what I tell you–if I do that, if I use this baton in that way, that references the baton in this way, then that, by their expert, is reasonable,” Barnett said.

“If I do this,” he continued, making a fist, “that’s murder.”

Barnett was referencing the prosecution’s expert who said that using the baton in the way he used it would be okay, but that using the fist and the language from the second incident was not.

Closing arguments continued through the afternoon, with Cicinelli’s also attorney getting a chance to speak to the jury.

On Thursday morning, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was expected to deliver his rebuttal statement. The case was set to then be sent to the jury.

KTLA’s Chip Yost contributed to this article.

The final two witnesses, both doctors, testified in the Kelly Thomas beating trial on Monday. Chip Yost reports from Santa Ana for the KTLA 5 News at 6:30 on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.

A hearing to determine what evidence the jury in the Kelly Thomas death trial would be presented with when they return from a two-week break was held in Santa Ana Friday.

Video of the July 5, 2011 incident shows Thomas being hit repeatedly with fists, a baton and finally the butt of a stun gun by Fullerton police officers.

The prosecution is hoping to introduce evidence they believe would contradict testimony given by a training officer who defended the use of force by the officers.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli have been charged in Thomas’ death.

Chip Yost reports from Santa Ana for the KTLA 5 News at 1 on Dec. 27, 2013.