Two police officers have been charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man in California.
Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony excessive force. Both are members of the police department in Fullerton, Calif., about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
The charges relate to the death of Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless man with schizophrenia who died in July, five days after being beaten by police. Six officers were involved in the incident and were placed on paid leave after Thomas died, but so far, only Ramos and Cicinelli are facing criminal charges.
According to medical records released by Thomas' family, Thomas was already brain dead when he was taken to the hospital, and he was removed from life support five days later. He had severe brain injuries from head trauma, as well as broken ribs, broken cheekbones and internal bleeding. The records also show that the police shocked him several times with Tasers.
According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Ramos ordered Thomas to sit on the ground with his legs outstretched, but Thomas got confused, and Ramos threatened him, Now, you see my fists? They are getting ready to [expletive] you up. Thomas stood up and took a few steps back, raising his hands defensively. That's when Ramos allegedly knocked Thomas to the ground with his baton and started beating him, while his fellow police officers, including Cicinelli, used their Tasers both to shock Thomas and to hit him in the face, Reuters reported.
Rackauckas said that during the beating, Thomas screamed, I can't breathe, help and dad.
Parts of Incident Recoded
Witnesses recorded cell phone videos of parts of the beating, and other parts were captured on a camera at a nearby bus depot.
The police officers were responding to reports of a man trying to break into cars. But they never found any evidence of car robberies, and Thomas did not have any stolen items on him. He had no narcotics or prescription medicine in his system, either, according to his medical records.
Rackauckas said Ramos had encountered Thomas before and knew he was schizophrenic. It would have been obvious to any reasonable observer that Kelly Thomas had difficulty following Ramos' instructions, he told The Voice of Orange County, an investigative news agency. Ramos had to know that he was creating a situation where Kelly Thomas feared for his life and was struggling to get away from an armed police officer. And Ramos had to know other officers would come to his aid and Kelly Thomas was going to get hurt, badly hurt.
If convicted, Ramos could face 15 years to life in prison, and Cicinelli could face four years. Bail has been set at $1 million for Ramos and $25,000 for Cicinelli.