Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Killer Cops Due Back in Court

Killer cops Manny Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are due back in Santa Ana court this Friday for a pre-trial conference.  In case you've been hibernating or manning the space station for the past 4 months, these are the same goons who brutally beat Kelly Thomas to death on July 5, 2011.  Mr. Thomas was a 37-year old homeless man who suffered from severe mental illness. 

On the evening in question, Fullerton Police received a call referencing a suspicious subject in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transit Center.  The caller (who has never been identified, although various reports indicate may have been a manager at the SlideBar) reported that the man might be attempting to break into parked cars. 

Officer Ramos responded to the call with his partner, Officer Joe Wolfe.  According to the digital voice recorders worn by the officers, as well as various security cameras, Officer Ramos repeatedly ordered Kelly to sit on a curb with his legs crossed and his hands behind his back while the officers searched the contents of Kelly's backpack. 

Due to Kelly's severe mental illness, he had difficulty complying with the officer's orders and repeatedly uncrossed his legs.  At some point during the confrontation, Officer Ramos put on a pair of gloves and told Kelly "These fists are getting ready to fuck you up".  Reasonably fearing for his safety, Kelly attempted to run.  He was tackled a few steps later and severely beaten.  Bystanders indicate that officers tased Kelly at least 5 times while punching, kicking and choking him. 

Corporal Cicinelli responded to the scene after the confrontation had already escalated into a full-scale beating.  It is alleged that Cicinelli may have dealt the death blow by repeatedly drop-kneeing Kelly in the throat and head, as well as striking Kelly in the face with the butt of his taser.  

This is what Kelly looked like when 6 of Fullerton's finest were done with him:

He was kept alive for 5 days on life support before his family made the decision to remove him.  Mr. Thomas died from a combination of asphyxia and blunt force trauma to the head as a result of the beating and choking he suffered at the hands of the Fullerton Police.  

Kelly has become a symbol of police brutality.  His case has galvanized activists in the normally quiet, conservative town of Fullerton, CA.  His death has also helped shed light on what appears to be a culture of corruption and cover-ups within the Fullerton Police Department.  As of October, 2011, Fullertonsfuture.org reports that no fewer than 9 Fullerton officers were on paid leave while under investigation for various crimes and abuse of authority.  Fullerton cops have recently been arrested for theft and drugs, sued for sexual assault, implicated in several other instances of brutality, and caught committing perjury. 

Partially in response to the public outcry against the officers involved, OCDA Tony Rackauckas announced on September 21, 2011 that Officer Ramos will be charged with 2nd Degree Murder and Manslaughter under the theory that he unlawfully precipitated a series of events that led to Kelly's death. Corporal Cicinelli is charged with Manslaughter and Excessive Force.  Both officers have entered pleas of Not Guilty and both are currently free on bail.  Their defense teams are being paid for the Fullerton Police Officers' Assn. (the police union). 

Both officers are scheduled to appear for pre-trial conferences this Friday, November 4.  The pre-trial conference is typically an opportunity for defense attorneys to sit down with the prosecution and to discuss the possible grounds for an early settlement via a plea bargain.  Nobody expects a plea deal to be reached in this case because the DA has not made any such offers.  Since the prospects for a plea deal are extremely slim, we can probably expect both sides to simply update the court re: the status of any outstanding discovery issues and to set dates for the court to hear motions, schedule further pre-trial hearings to resolve any loose ends, or set a date for a Preliminary Hearing (also referred to as a "Prelim", "Preliminary Examination" or a "Probable Cause Hearing" -- all different names for the same thing). 

Once the case advances to the Prelim, things really start getting interesting.  Everyone who is accused of a felony has the right to a neutral determination of probable cause.  One way this is achieved (the most common way in California) is by a Prelim.  The Prelim is like a little mini trial, wherein the DA spells out their case against a defendant.  Depending on the complexity of the issues, a Prelim can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several weeks.  The DA presents witnesses and puts investigators on the stand.  They explain what they found at the crime scene and how they came to suspect the defendant's involvement in the crime.  After the Prelim, the judge makes a determination as to whether or not continuing forward would be a waste of the court's time.  If the judge determines that there is a good reason to suspect that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is likely guilty of the crime, then the defendant is "held to answer" and the case is one step closer to trial. 

This blog will be closely following any developments in the case and I will try to provide meaningful legal analysis of every stage.  Stay tuned for more news as it becomes available.