Justice for Kelly Thomas

Daniel Perret-Goluboff


There’s a comfortable security in refusing to grow up. If you’re never an adult, then you’re never truly responsible for your actions. The downside to unending mental youth, however, is the way it can make you look when you are clearly already guilty of something horrendous. These are the thoughts that fill my head while I review the coverage of Kelly Thomas’s death from last year in Fullerton, Calif.

Down on his luck, Thomas was a homeless man living with mental illness on the streets of the Orange County city until an altercation with Fullerton police lead to his death last July outside of a bus depot.

Normally I advocate for the concept of a fair trial for all accused parties in any crime, but I simply cannot bring myself to endorse that kind of blessing for the two officers on trial in the death of Thomas. Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli have recently been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, respectively.

Last July, Ramos and Cicinelli confronted Thomas outside of a bus station and are said to have used excessive force — in a situation that did not warrant violence at all — that eventually killed Kelly Thomas. Both of these men have pleaded not guilty to the charges they are facing.

Allow me to make something clear: When I first heard about this case, I was admittedly skeptical, and entertained the idea that these men might be innocent. As is often the case with these matters, it is hard to make a judgment call about what amount of force is necessary in dealing with issues of public safety. Mentally, I was willing to give the two officers at least some portion of the benefit of the doubt.

That all changed several days ago, when a video of the interaction between the two officers and Thomas was released online prior to its use by the prosecution in their trial. The video is truly too vile to capture with words.

It shows Ramos and Cicinelli savagely beating Thomas, stunning him with their tasers and sitting on his chest. There are even points in the video where you can hear Thomas calling out for his father — who is, of course, not present — saying, “Dad, they’re killing me!”

The video is truly one of the most shocking that I’ve seen in my time. Perhaps the only thing more upsetting than the footage of these men is that they continue to plead not guilty despite the prosecution’s video evidence to the contrary.

Their attorneys claim that if the prosecution cannot pinpoint the exact moment in the videotape where Thomas died as a result of the actions of Ramos and Cicinelli, they cannot be charged with his death and that the burden should instead fall on the hospital at which he was treated following the beating.

There is security in refusing to grow up, but it is an ignorant one. There is nothing to be gained by these two men in refusing to take credit for their own malicious actions.

Finding these men anything except guilty of murdering Thomas would represent a horrible lapse in our legal system. We cannot stand idly by while killers are allowed to roam the streets behind the protection of a badge and a gun.

Whether or not they are willing to admit that they did anything wrong, these men are murderers and should be treated as such.