Currently viewing the tag: "kelly thomas"

Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guilty on one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.

That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests

One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.

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Ramos displays an injury sustained during his confrontation with Thomas

Ramos displays an injury sustained during his confrontation with Thomas

Yesterday afternoon, Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos, the former Fullerton, California Police Officers who beat Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 were found not guilty of charges ranging from excessive force to second degree murder.

Afterwards, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus said he wouldn’t pursue charges against a third officer, Joseph Wolfe, who was to be charged separately with involuntary manslaughter. Yesterday and today, members of the Fullerton community continued to express outrage and bafflement over the officers going free.

(The FBI is looking the verdict, however. And Thomas’ family says they will continue fighting for their son, including filing a civil action.)

In spite of the excruciating half hour of surveillance footage that includes Thomas screaming out apologies and cries for his father, in spite of Ramos saying “Now see these fists? They getting ready to fuck you up”, the officers are not criminally culpable.

It’s difficult to respond to the case and the verdict without being “overly” emotional. I know several male journalists who acknowledge shedding tears when they watched the video in which Thomas can be heard struggling to breath and crying for his dad. Cicinelli and Ramos’ defense attorney did what he was supposed to do, namely raise enough doubt in the minds of jurors. And part of that defense was to argue that Cicnelli and Ramos were doing what they were trained to do. Maybe they were. Undoubtedly that’s worse than them being rogue brutes. If police cannot be trusted or trained to deescalate a confrontation with a man who appeared to be homeless, who was known to the police and the community as schizophrenic, and who seemed unable to obey commands, then it’s hard not to wonder what purpose they serve beyond a mentally ill transient-removal service.

Cicinelli, also, has already announced that he wants his job with the Fullerton PD back. The sheer volume of bad press that might result could save Fullerton’s citizens from being under Cisnelli’s lawful authority again, but you never know.

Thomas during his five days on life support after the beating

Thomas during his five days on life support after the beating

Here are some notable responses to the verdict:

A surprisingly insightful Gawker comment says Joe Public messed it up:

LtCmndHipster

Who the fuck do we blame here? Ourselves. We had a video and a body. We had a DA willing to bring charges against the perpetrators. What we didn’t have was a jury pool willing to convict these two men of murder simply because they were police officers. If the american public can be this apathetic, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Yesterday 8:15pm

Anthony Gregory, writing at the Independent Institute’s Beacon Blog, puts the Thomas killing into the context of the state’s violent nature:

It is the nature of the state that acts that would be considered criminal if conducted by private individuals are legal if done by the government. Government is a monopoly on legal violence, after all. In today’s America, this reality is no clearer than with the burgeoning police state, whose agents routinely commit violent acts that would condemn most of us to a cell for decades.

The Atlantic‘s Andrew Cohen seems more shocked than anything else:

I followed this case but never wrote about it because I assumed—wrongly it turns out—that Orange County jurors would convict. But I should have known better. The results of these cases often don’t turn upon the strength of the facts or upon the evidence introduced at trial. They often turn instead upon what a group of people, a group of jurors, think is right and wrong. Jurors obviously believe they made the right choice. But because of the existence of that video, and what it shows us with our own eyes, the rest of us are more free than usual to criticize that choice. And I choose to do so. What has happened here— both on that night in July 2011 and again today—is wrong. Painfully, manifestly, cruelly wrong. It is a travesty upon justice.

OC Register Columnist David Whiting correctly notes that bringing the officers to trial was a significant thing for Fullerton and for the rest of the country, but that’s a sign of serious accountability issues, not a reason to celebrate. The rest of the awful piece tries too hard to be optimistic and let’s all move on-y. Whiting says “the rule of law” won out, and nobody broke any windows in anger:

We saw Fullerton police persevere through the cries of “murderers” from some protesters. And we didn’t riot after the not guilty verdicts.

Getting kudos for honoring the rule of law may seem silly. But it’s significant considering what’s happened in many American cities – including Anaheim – after some officer-involved controversies.

More tellingly, Whiting adds to the win column that “we witnessed our district attorney risk his political career by prosecuting those officers.” Did the DA risk his career by daring to prosecute police officers? And if so, isn’t that troubling and worth exploring in more detail than a sentence?

Finally, cartoonist Bob Aul sums it up in the OC Weekly:

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed "the fight of [his] life"

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed “the fight of [his] life”

On October 14, a 52-year-old mentally ill man named Bobby Gerald Bennett was shot at four times by police in Dallas, Texas. His mother, Joyce Jackson, who he sometimes lived with, had called them after the two had an argument; she says she was told the officers coming to the house were trained in dealing with people like her son, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But one of the officers, Cardan Spencer, shot Bennett in the stomach even though he wasn’t approaching the cops—a neighbor’s surveillance video shows that Bennett was holding a knife but standing 20 feet away from them. After that video came out, the charge against Bennett of assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant got dropped and now Spencer is suspended indefinitely and being investigated himself.

This kind of incident is depressingly common. On November 18, two former members of the Fullerton, California police department will go on trial for beating and killing Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, back in 2011. Manuel Anthony Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (Another officer who was present at the beating will go on trial for involuntary manslaughter in January.) Thomas had a long rap sheet for “interactions” with police that went back 20 years, as you might expect in the case of a homeless man with a mental illness. By all accounts the cops, who were responding to reports of car break-ins in the area, were aware of Thomas’s problems. Yet they still beat him repeatedly as he begged for help and cried out for his father (a former sheriff’s deputy who sued the police department and brought a lot of media attention to the case). Thomas eventually choked on his own blood because his throat was crushed.

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