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Two officers acquitted in fatal beating of homeless schizophrenic man

Two former California police officers were found not guilty Monday on charges related to the fatal beating of a schizophrenic homeless man in a case that made national headlines and infuriated protesters who accused the police of abusing their authority.

Former Officer Manuel Ramos and former Corporal Jay Cicinelli  were charged with beating Kelly Thomas, 37, with a baton and a  stun gun on July 5, 2011 in an assault that left the mentally ill  man in a coma. Thomas never regained consciousness and died in  his hospital bed five days later.

Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary  manslaughter charges, while Cicinelli was charged with excessive  use of force and involuntary manslaughter. It took the jury less  than one full day of deliberations to reach the non-guilty  verdicts, and both former officers were quickly ushered out of  the courtroom when the decisions were announced.

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, slammed the verdict and told the Los  Angeles Times he had never witnessed such a miscarriage of  justice and suggested that federal authorities consider launching  their own investigation.

The incident began when a local business owner called the police  to report that someone in the parking lot had been attempting to  burglarize cars. Ramos was the first officer on the scene and  confronted Thomas. His attorney, John Barnett, claimed that Ramos  verbally threatened Thomas in an attempt to avoid a physical  fight and then, when the time came put his police training to  proper use.

Much of the trial focused on audio obtained from the officers’   recording devices and a 33-minute surveillance video that  captured the assault in its entirety. Ramos can be heard at one  point saying “Now see my fists? They’re getting ready to  (expletive) you up.”

Cicinelli was the third officer to respond and approached as  Ramos and another officer were swinging their batons at Thomas as  they struggled to handcuff him. Cicinelli hit Thomas in the head  and face with the butt of his stun gun at least eight times,  shattering multiple bones and creating breathing problems that  would eventually asphyxiate him.

Thomas can be heard more than once on the tape pleading with the  officers and asking for his father.

Dad, they are killing me,” were some of the final words  Thomas ever spoke. The tape, which was shown several times at  trial, also includes audio from the officers after the beating  and shows them shifting uncomfortably when paramedics fail to  revive Thomas.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas made the unlikely  decision to try the case himself rather than leave the  responsibility to a subordinate. Rackauckas has not tried a case  in front of a jury since 1999 and cited Ramos’ past encounters  with Thomas as part of his prosecution strategy.

Defense attorneys said Thomas was a violent individual with a  history of violence and drug abuse that strained his relationship  with family members and ultimately led to his homelessness. They  told the jury Thomas endured the beating because he broke the law  by fleeing from police when they suspected he was in possession  of stolen property.

At one point they called Cathy Thomas to the stand and used her  to testify against Kelly, forcing her to describe the time he  choked her and left her no choice but to file a restraining  order.

Ron Thomas said Kelly was fixture in the area where he was killed  and that his son’s schizophrenia prevented him from understanding  the officers’ commands. Mr. Thomas was furious when speaking to  reporters after the verdict was read, accusing the prosecution of  lying “continuously” about Kelly, particularly his drug abuse.

It’s carte blanche for police officers everywhere to beat  us, kill us,” he said, adding that Monday’s verdict is  evidence “they’ll get away with it.”

What was he doing but begging for his life that he deserved  to get beat in the face with a deadly weapon?” Thomas went  on. “They never said ‘Kelly, have you had enough?’   He would have certainly said yes because he was begging for  his life.”

After the verdict prosecutors announced they would not seek  charges against Officer Joseph Wolfe, who was also involved in  the beating. Online, outraged locals have already vowed to mount  a protest in response to the verdict.

The coroner determined Thomas died from brain damage and  asphyxiation caused by the beating. Yet defense attorneys argued  that years of methamphetamine use contributed to his death.

The case galvanized the public when a gruesome image of Thomas’   face taken from his hospital bed was published in newspapers,  online, and passed through social media. The picture depicts a  swollen face covered in blood, bruises, and open wounds. Thomas  has bandages on his forehead, nose and one in each nostril.

Cathy Thomas sobbed as the verdict was read and was visibly  shaken when she met with reporters afterward.

Just horrified,” she said. “He got away with  murdering my son. It’s just not fair. So I guess it’s legal to go  out and kill now. He was so innocent. It just isn’t fair at  all.”


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