Two police officers in Fullerton, California, will be tried in the death of a mentally ill homeless man whose apparent beating by police was captured on video, a judge ruled on May 10.
Officer Manuel Ramos and Police Corporal Jay Cicinelli are charged in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas: Ramos with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and assault or battery by a public officer. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Last year I wrote here about the death of Thomas, who was pummeled, shocked with a Taser, and beaten with the butt of a stun gun on July 5, and died several days later from his severe injuries.
Attorneys for the officers have questioned whether medical treatment, not the actual beating, could have resulted in Thomas’ death.
Warning – Disturbing Video
Perhaps they haven’t seen the 8-minute video of Kelly Thomas being beaten to death? I am adding the link here, but must warn you that this is painful to watch and even more painful to hear, as Thomas’ screams for help echo in the night. This surveillance video, taken from a publicly mounted camera, coupled with an audio recording device worn by an officer, stunned a packed courtroom of Thomas’ supporters when it was shown for the first time Monday.
This video was indeed the key evidence in the prosecution’s successful effort to convince the court to force these two police officers to stand trial.
Here’s how NPR describes what happens in the video:
Ramos approaches Thomas and tells him repeatedly to extend his feet in front of him and to put his hands on his knees.
After several minutes, the recordings show a visibly annoyed Ramos slowly putting on latex gloves and, using expletives, threatening Thomas with his fists.
The confrontation escalates, and Thomas is seen trying to run from Ramos, who hits him with a baton. Soon after, another officer assists Ramos, as Thomas apologizes and insists that he can’t breathe.
In all, six officers tried to subdue Thomas, who is heard in the recording crying for help and for his father.
The judge reviewing the evidence this week halted proceedings as audience members gasped and cried out as the video was screened.
For weeks last year, dozens of supporters rallied in front of Fullerton’s police headquarters demanding that the officers be prosecuted. Under pressure, the chief of police took a medical leave of absence, then resigned, and three City Council members have been targeted for recall.
Shining A Light On Mistreatment Of Mentally Ill
What good can come out of Kelly Thomas’ death? The focus on yet another case of police brutality is important, and in addition, mental health advocates say this case has brought much needed attention to the mistreatment of the mentally ill.
As Rusty Selix, executive director of the Mental Health Association of California, puts it: “I think every law enforcement unit will want to think about, ‘Gee, are we ready? Would we have responded the same way?’ ”
Photo Credit: Mark VP Photography