Two former police officers in Orange County, CA were acquitted of murder Monday for beating a schizophrenic homeless man, Kelly Thomas, to death. After watching a harrowing video showing Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, along with other officers, brutalizing Thomas, the jury spent less than a day deliberating to find the two men not guilty.
In July 2011, the Fullerton cops came upon the 37-year-old schizophrenic taking some letters out of a trashcan and started beating him with a taser and a baton. The entire encounter was caught on a nearby security camera. The recording shows Ramos putting on a pair of latex gloves and telling Thomas, “See these fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up.” As the officers hit him, Thomas begged for help and called out for his father. Cicinelli arrived later, tasing Thomas with a stun gun and then struck him across the face with it hard enough to break several bones. “I just probably smashed his face to hell,” he says on the video. Thomas went unconscious and died five days later. Ramos and Cicinelli were fired about a year after the assault.
The defense attorneys argued Thomas had fought back, forcing the officers’ to subdue him, and that he died not of his injuries but of a heart condition exacerbated by long-term drug use. As a result of the not guilty verdict, the Orange County District Attorney has also decided not to pursue charges against a third officer, telling reporters, “I don’t intend to proceed with another trial when the two officers here were acquitted.”
Protesters took to the streets Monday night after the verdict came out, chanting “Justice for Kelly Thomas” and “We saw the video” outside the Fullerton Police Department.
The verdict has already sparked national outrage, but Ramos’ and Cicinelli’s fates are hardly unusual. While stories of police brutality are all too common, accused officers rarely face a courtroom, let alone prison time. Even video footage isn’t a guarantee the offender will face consequences; in one case from November, a Chicago cop was caught on tape standing over an unarmed man and shooting at him 16 times, but was never charged with a crime. In another creative twist, New York City prosecutors recently charged an unarmed mentally ill man with assault because police shot several bystanders while aiming for him.