According to a previously sealed internal affairs investigation report completed in April, 2012, three of the four Fullerton cops involved in the brutal beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, violated a series of department policies, including use of force.
The 57-page report written by Michael Gennaco rebukes the actions of former Fullerton cops Manuel Ramos, Joseph Wolfe and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli. Gennaco was hired by the city to conduct an independent review of Thomas’ beating on July 5, 2011.
The internal affairs report criticized the force used by Ramos and Wolfe, saying that before they began beating Thomas to death, the officers apparently did not consider him a threat.
“Both Ramos and Wolfe were experienced officers. The risk of injury to citizens and officers was relatively low and the risk of escape, while it existed, would not have necessarily presented a great public safety threat to the community based on the initial observations of the responding officers,” the internal affairs report said.
Although Cicinelli arrived after the beating had begun, he received the most detailed criticism. The report said that his statements such as “beating the shit” out of Thomas “convey (a) savage person who is willing to abuse his position of authority to exact street punishment to citizens he encounters.”
According to the report, 11 of the 13 officers who arrived at the scene violated department procedures, primarily by not turning on voice recorders.
Thomas, 37, was in a coma following the beating and died five days later. Three cops were criminally charged in connection with his death, but a jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli. Charges against the third officer were dropped.
At least five of the officers left the department after the beating. Three Fullerton city council members were recalled. The chief of police left, and reforms were undertaken to abolish the “culture of complacency” that a separate Gennaco investigation determined to dominate the department.
The city also funds “Behind the Badge OC”, a propaganda publication produced by a public relations firm sent to Fullerton residents that contains positive accounts between police and the community.
Thomas’ beating death brought national attention to the plight of the mentally ill and conduct of police who encounter them. During the beating, Kelly can be heard yelling that he couldn’t breathe and then calling out for his father.
A federal civil rights case is pending. The trial for a civil suit against the city and police brought by Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, is scheduled to begin later this month.
The internal affairs report goes into detail about what each of the 13 officers who responded to the bus station that night did, particularly Cicinelli.
First, he used his Taser and, when that didn’t cause Thomas to stop struggling, he smashed Thomas in the face with the plastic weapon, according to the report. He also hit Thomas twice in the head with his knee. The coroner said Thomas died of suffocation from having his chest compressed and from injuries to his face.
“Considering what Cicinelli was faced with when he arrived on scene
and the presence of three additional officers, his deployment of two knee strikes to Thomas’ head was unnecessary and unreasonable,” the report stated.
Cicinelli was justified in trying to use the Taser, the report said, but when that didn’t work “Cicinelli’s use of the Taser as an impact weapon to Thomas’ face is objectively unreasonable.”
The report highlights contradictions between the reports Cicinelli wrote up after the beating and what he told internal affairs.
“In his report, Cicinelli wrote that the reason he used the taser in that manner was to end Thomas’ resistance,” according to Gennaco’s report. “(But) in his interview, Cicinelli’s ‘justification’ shifted to the alleged grab of his Taser for the use of the head strikes. Yet that justification is not articulated in his report or his comments about the force immediately after the incident.”
Here are some of Cicinelli’s comments highlighted in Gennaco’s report:
“I mean he was tossing us around like we were nothing and that was after was thumping the shit out of him…We ran out of options so I got the end of my Taser and I probably just smashed his face to hell…I fucking beat him probably twenty times in the face with this taser.”
The report went on to say Cicinelli’s comments, “while not necessarily ones of bravado, strongly suggest that the head strikes were prompted by Thomas’ resistance as opposed to his grab of the Taser.”
“The mental imagery that such statements convey is a savage person who is willing to abuse his position of authority to exact street punishment to citizens he encounters,” the report said.
RAW Video: Kelly Thomas Beating (Graphic)