FBI to revisit fatal beating of California transient after police cleared

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2014 3:29 PM

By Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The FBI said on Tuesday it will re-examine the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man in the California city of Fullerton, following the acquittal of two former police officers on state charges in the case.

An Orange County Superior Court jury found ex-Fullerton officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli not guilty on Monday on all charges in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, after a monthlong trial.

Prosecutors had accused Ramos and Cicinelli, who approached Thomas near a bus depot in July 2011 to question him about reports of vandalized cars, of turning a routine law enforcement encounter into an unnecessary and savage beating that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.

Defense lawyers argued that Thomas was dangerous and that the officers responded according to their training.

The altercation between six Fullerton officers and Thomas was caught on a surveillance camera. Broadcast of the videotape touched off street protests and political upheaval in Fullerton, 30 milessoutheast of Los Angeles.

"In 2011, the FBI opened an investigation to determine if Mr. Thomas' civil rights were violated during an altercation with Fullerton police officers," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a written statement.

"With the conclusion of the state court trial, investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level," Eimiller said.

The victim's father, Ron Thomas, who attended the trial in Santa Ana and called the verdict clearing Ramos and Cicinelli "horrible," said it was too early to be hopeful about the FBI investigation.

"I don't feel excited. I'm completely numb right now. I'm just drained after two and a half years of this fight. And they just walk away without even excessive force charges? This shouldn't have happened. Where did it go wrong?" Thomas said.

Thomas, who has sued the city of Fullerton, scheduled a press conference with his attorney for Tuesday afternoon.

The city has agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas's mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son's death. The victim's parents are divorced and litigating separately.

In 2012, Fullerton's acting chief of police posthumously exonerated Thomas of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation, saying he was cleared of any suspicion that he provoked the violent struggle that led to his death.

(Reporting by Dana Feldman and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)