A California judge ordered Wednesday that two Fullerton police
officers stand trial in the beating death last year of Kelly Thomas, a
homeless man with a mental illness.
Officer Manuel Ramos is
charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl.
Jay Patrick Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and
felony use of excessive force.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm scheduled the next hearing in the case on May 22.
Schwarm's ruling came after a three-day preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday.
Orange County District
Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who's prosecuting the case, told reporters
that he expected defense attorneys to challenge Wednesday's ruling in a
motion and possibly an appeal.
Rackauckas said the case "was a terrible incident, and we're going to proceed forward and get justice."
"This is a hard thing to
file, a case of this nature against police officers, because we have
tremendous law enforcement in Orange County," Rackauckas told reporters.
"This kind of incident is very damaging to the community -- to
everybody, the police, the community -- because it erodes that trust.
"It brings down the image of the entire community," the county's elected prosecutor said.
Ron Thomas, the father of
Kelly Thomas, told reporters after the ruling that the Fullerton Police
Department "is full of good officers."
Opinion: Words to break a father's heart
"It's just this band of criminals, these hoodlums," Ron Thomas added.
Ron Thomas noted he and others in his family have worked in law enforcement for "generations."
He said his son would have "never thought a police officer would beat him to death."
The three-day hearing
included attorneys repeating a profanity that Ramos uttered to Kelly
Thomas, who had schizophrenia, before a total of six police officers
were involved in subduing and beating him.
Rackauckas said he
repeated the obscenity several times in court to show how Ramos' conduct
was "a very far departure from professional and reasonable police"
Kelly Thomas was
shirtless and with a backpack when Ramos first approached him in
response to a police call that a transient male fitting that description
at the Fullerton bus depot was "trying door handles," attorneys for
both sides said. The incident evolved into a police inquiry into "a
minor property crime" possibly involving receiving stolen property,
Rackauckas told the court.
During testimony earlier
Wednesday, Orange County coroner's pathologist Dr. Aruna Singhania
continuing answering questions for a second day from attorneys for Ramos
and Cicinelli about the autopsy she performed on Thomas, 37, after the
Ramos and Cicinelli have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Later, in presenting
arguments before the court ruling was issued, Rackauckas told the judge
that there's sufficient evidence to put the two officers on trial.
"It's a very bad day in
Orange County when we have to charge two police officers with these
kinds of terrible crimes," the county's elected prosecutor told the
judge. "They're sworn to uphold the law, and they're entrusted with the
authority given to them by the state of California."
objected when Rackauckas continued his comments and started speaking of
the "awesome power" with which police officers are entrusted.
"This is not a press conference," said attorney Michael Schwartz, representing defendant Cicinelli.
discontinued that line of argument and began addressing other topics
after the judge told him: "The court does understand the powers that
police officers have, and the level of trust that society places in
John Barnett, the
attorney for Ramos, argued that prosecutors didn't provide sufficient
evidence to order his client to stand trial.
On Tuesday, Singhania
provided the court with nearly two dozen autopsy photos, prompting
Thomas' mother and father to leave the courtroom, as they did on Monday
when a videotape of the beating was played. The 16 minutes of video came
from a surveillance camera at a downtown Fullerton bus depot where the
Tuesday that based on her autopsy, medical records and the videotape,
she determined mechanical chest compressions with blunt cranial injuries
caused Thomas' death.
Singhania also testified that Thomas suffered a complete hemorrhaging of his left eye.
Thomas was beaten by
police during the July 5, 2011, incident and died five days later,
prosecutors say. The FBI is investigating civil rights violations in the
case, as well.
Rackauckas has said that
Thomas suffered brain injuries, facial fractures, rib fractures and
extensive bruising and abrasions. The county coroner listed his manner
of death as a homicide and said he died because he was unable to breathe
after having his chest compressed.
Ramos, 37, a 10-year
veteran of the police department, would face a maximum sentence of 15
years to life if convicted, authorities said. Cicinelli, 39, a 12-year
Fullerton police veteran, would face a maximum of four years in prison