Officers acquitted in California homeless death

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 14, 2014 at 12:23 am •  Published: January 14, 2014
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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two California police officers who were videotaped in a violent struggle with a homeless man during an arrest were acquitted Monday of killing him.

It was a rare case in which police officers were charged in a death involving actions on duty. One of the officers acquitted had been charged with murder.

Jurors took less than two days to reach their verdicts.

The arrest was captured on a 33-minute surveillance video that was key evidence at the trial. It showed Kelly Thomas struggling with six police officers, who hit, kneed and jolted him with an electric stun gun as he was on the ground, calling out for his father over and over again.

Former Fullerton police Officer Manuel Ramos was acquitted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 2011 death of Thomas.

Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Spectators let out a gasp as the verdict was read.

Cicinelli, 41, wiped tears from his eyes and Ramos, 39, put his head down and rubbed his temples before turning to his supporters and winking.

Cicinelli's attorney pounded the defense table twice before embracing his client in a bear hug.

Thomas' father sat stone-faced while his mother wept.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus, who tried the case himself, said after the verdicts that charges will be dropped against Joseph Wolfe, a third officer awaiting trial.

Thomas' parents condemned the verdict outside court.

"Just horrified," Cathy Thomas said. "He got away with murdering my son."

Ron Thomas said the verdict gave police "carte blanche" to brutalize people.

"All of us need to be very afraid now," he said. "Police officers everywhere can beat us, kill us, whatever they want, but it has been proven right here today they'll get away with it.

"Inside, we're all just torn up ... It hurts, it hurts really, really bad," he said.

Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, said jurors did their duty.

"These peace officers were doing their jobs," he said. "They were operating as they were trained, and they had no malice in their hearts."

The defense said Thomas started the confrontation by refusing to heed police orders and was fighting officers so much that they called for backup multiple times. At one point, the lawyers said, Thomas tried to reach for Cicinelli's stun gun.

Ron Thomas has countered that his son suffered from schizophrenia and didn't understand the officers.

The FBI said after the verdict that it will investigate to determine whether to take federal action against the officers.

"With the conclusion of the state court trial, investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine whether further investigation is warranted at the federal level," said Laura Eimiller, the FBI's spokeswoman in Los Angeles.