The December 2013 trial for the death of a homeless man badly beaten by California police officers in 2011 is making history for being the first murder trial ever to involve a uniformed officer in Orange County.
Former Orange County officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were accused of beating 37-year-old Kelly Thomas unconscious on the night of July 5, which led to his death five days later.
Ramos was initially tried for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cicinelli for involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Both officers have pleaded not guilty.
Ramos and Cicinelli were only two of six officers involved in the beating. Another officer awaits trial, while the remaining three were not charged by prosecutors.
Thomas was familiar to Orange County police. In the past, Ramos had been called to check on several vandalism and trespassing situations involving Thomas. On July 5, 2011, Ramos found Thomas after he responded to a report of a man attempting to open car doors at a California transit center.
Surveillance tapes and audio recordings from the officers’ body microphones that night were used in the case as the prosecution’s main evidence. The recordings detail the conversation and events of the altercation between Thomas, Ramos and the other officers who later arrived on the scene.
Thomas was unarmed and fell unconscious after the beating when his heart stopped and he was revived by an EMT, according to a paramedic’s testimony. Thomas did not regain consciousness and died five days later.
According to the officers’ statements, Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, refused to cooperate and backup was called. A video of the event depicts Thomas screaming in pain for help as the officers punched, kicked, kneed, and even tazed Thomas.
Many people were shocked by the jury’s speedy decision and are upset by the officers’ acquittal. A makeshift memorial site has been put together at the transit center in honor of Thomas.
We rely on the police to protect us and make the tough decision of deciding when it’s necessary to use force in a situation, but when does protection cross the line and become brutality? Officers tend to get the benefit of the doubt in cases such as this one and their charges are often dropped.