California policeman pleads innocent in homeless man's death

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 26, 2011 3:23 PM
California policeman pleads innocent in homeless man's death

By Tori Richards

SANTA ANA, Calif (Reuters) - A California policeman pleaded not guilty on Monday to killing a schizophrenic homeless man who was beaten and repeatedly shocked with a Taser in a videotaped July confrontation with six officers.

Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos was charged last week with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, and the judge in the case refused on Monday to reduce his $1 million bail.

Corporal Jay Cicinelli, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the same incident, pleaded not guilty last week and was free on $25,000 bail.

Ramos, 37, faces a maximum of 15 years to life in prison if he is found guilty at trial while Cicinelli, 39, could face up to four years behind bars.

The fatal confrontation between Thomas and the six Fullerton officers, which was caught on video by a bus depot surveillance camera and the cell phones of two witnesses, touched off protests in the Southern California city.

The case is also being investigated by the FBI.

Defense attorney John Barnett asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick Larsh to set a lower bail for Ramos, saying the policeman did not pose a danger to the community.

Barnett said Ramos had been dealing with a "violent felon" in Thomas, a situation that occurred while he was on duty and would not be repeated if he were free on bond.

"This is not a typical murder case and typical bail should not apply," said Barnett, who won an acquittal in 1992 for Ted Briseno, one of four Los Angeles police officers charged in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

But Ron Thomas, the victim's father, urged Larsh to keep bail for Ramos at $1 million in what he described as the "brutal murder" of his son, saying he feared retaliation.

"I don't sleep at night wondering if they will come to my house," he said. "I would consider him a flight risk. With the police officers' union posting his bail, he would think nothing of fleeing and not coming back."

"Please do not reduce the bail, I'm in fear for my life," Ron Thomas said.

Larsh, in rejecting the request, said he saw no unusual circumstances in the case and considered the bail appropriate.

Prosecutors said Ramos, who came to court in a yellow jail jumpsuit and was kept behind a cage, had been kept in isolation and under a suicide watch at the Orange County Jail.

Outside court, Barnett said Ramos' actions were within Fullerton police policy and that it was other officers who used lethal force on Thomas during the altercation. Thomas was on life support following the beating and died of his injuries five days later.

Larsh has ordered both Ramos, a 10-year veteran of the Fullerton Police Department, and Cicinelli back to court on November 4 for a pretrial hearing in the case.

(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)