Police chief to fight re-hiring of California officer cleared in fatal beating

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 22, 2014 1:42 PM

By Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The police chief of a Southern California community, where two former officers were acquitted in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man, said on Wednesday he would fight an attempt by one of the officers to get his job back.

The 2011 confrontation between drifter Kelly Thomas, 37, and six police officers was captured on a surveillance camera at a bus depot and touched off street protests and political upheaval in Fullerton, some 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Last week, an Orange County Superior Court jury in Santa Ana acquitted Fullerton ex-officers Manuel Ramos, 39, and Jay Cicinelli, 41, of all charges related to the incident following a closely watched month-long trial.

The following day, an attorney for Cicinelli said his client would seek reinstatement. But Fullerton police chief Dan Hughes said that the verdict would have "absolutely no impact" on the employment status of the two former policemen.

"I want our community to know that I am very confident in the decisions I made regarding these former officers and I intend to vigorously defend my decisions in each and every step of the employment grievance process," Hughes said.

Prosecutors had accused the two officers, who approached Thomas to question him about reports of vandalized cars, of turning a routine law enforcement encounter into an unnecessary and savage bludgeoning that cost the unarmed homeless man his life.

Defense lawyers won acquittals by arguing that Thomas was dangerous and the officers responded according to their training. They also said that Thomas suffered from a weak heart brought on by drug abuse, which contributed to his death.

Following the verdicts, the FBI said it would re-examine the incident, which led to angry demonstrations in Fullerton and the ouster of three city council members in a recall election.

The city of Fullerton has already agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas's mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she may 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.

(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)