FBI Will Look at Beating Death of Homeless Man after Police Acquitted

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Kelly Thomas

Two Southern California police officers who beat a schizophrenic homeless man before his death in 2011, but were found not guilty by a jury of murder or manslaughter, will be investigated by the FBI for civil rights violations.

“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,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a statement.

The beating of Kelly Thomas was captured by a security camera at a transit parking lot in the city of Fullerton and the broadcast video horrified the nation. Thomas repeatedly says he is sorry and tries to cooperate with the officers’ instructions. They find his actions a tad impudent and resistant. After putting Latex gloves on, one officer leans over, makes a fist next to Thomas’ face and says, “Now see these fists? They’re going to fuck you up.”

And they do. The more physical the officers get, the more he resists. Thomas starts to scream, complains he can’t breathe and begs them to stop.

They do not. He gets tasered repeatedly and beaten with a flashlight, all the while crying out for his dad.  The police, who repeatedly remark on the strength of the scrawny 37-year-old man, speculate that he is on drugs. They have him cuffed by the video’s 7-minute mark and he’s quiet two minutes later. At the 10:30 mark, an officer describes smashing Thomas’ “face to hell” with the taser. At the 12-minute mark someone suggests they “see if he’s breathing or not.”

He is, but not for long. The rest of the 19-minute video is the paramedics wrapping him up for transport to the ER. Thomas never regained consciousness and died five days later.

Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Corporal Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. The jury took a day to acquit them of all charges. A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, was charged separately with manslaughter and excessive force, but the authorities said charges would now be dropped against him.

A trauma surgeon testified at the trial that Thomas died from continuous chest compression that caused breathing problems and the coroner agreed. Aruna Singhania, a pathologist, said Thomas also had seven external lacerations and abrasions on his face, a fractured nose, an upper lip injury and a hemorrhaged eye.

An attorney for Officer Cicinelli argued that Thomas died from an enlarged heart caused by drug use. Singhania disagreed. She noted Thomas had no needle marks on his body and said, “He died with an enlarged heart, he did not die of the enlarged heart.”  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

FBI Will Investigate Whether the Homeless Man Beaten to Death by Police Had His Rights Violated (by Annie-Rose Strasser, ThinkProgress)

FBI to Study Trial Evidence in Fatal Police Beating of California Homeless Man (by Michael Martinez, CNN)

Fullerton Police Officers Found Not Guilty in Kelly Thomas Beating Death Case (by Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press)

Timeline to Kelly Thomas' Killing (by R. Scott Moxley, OC Weekly)

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