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BIG UPDATE: The verdict is NOT GUILTY on all charges.
(Start from the bottom if you want to read the comments in the order they appeared in real time.)
* UPDATE 7 — Fullerton Police Chief: Happy People Shouldn’t Gloat, Angry People Shouldn’t Destroy Things
Fullerton police Chief Dan Hughes read a statement: “We respect the jury’s verdict. … We understand that there may be a wide variety of reactions to the verdict and encourage anybody who wishes to express their feelings to do so respectfully.” Hughes said that Fullerton has taken “significant steps” to improve its policing since Thomas’ death.
That’s the right thing for Chief Dan to say. The wording of his statement is interesting: “respectfully” means not only people not destroying the city, but also means supporters of the police should not gloat and minimize what happened to Kelly Thomas. At least that’s what I hope he meant. Unfortunately, I doubt that some people won’t gloat — and I don’t know what to think about the likelihood of rioting or property damage. I know that people are worried.
Fullerton would have been much better off with at least a conviction of Cicinelli. Right around now would be a really good time to announce formation of a Civilian Police Review Commission with teeth, more than that provided by the Gennaco operation.
If I were Tony Bushala, by the way, I’d fire up FFFF again to mark the occasion. Any FFFF contributors who want to write a post here — and disagreeing with my take here is not only fine, but expected — just let me or Vern know.
* UPDATE 6 — Did Tony Rackauckas Blow This Case?
Again, I think he blew the charging part of it: Cicinelli rather than Ramos deserved the murder charge and Ramos as well as Cicinelli deserved the excessive use of force charge. But did his conduct of the trial make a difference? I tend to doubt it — but I tend to think that politically he’ll hang for it nonetheless.
Here’s something that just appeared in the Weekly’s recap:
Flanked by 11 sheriff’s deputies, Cicinelli cried as the verdicts were read. Moments before the decision was read, he had hugged family members, while the district attorney’s chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, handed tissues to Thomas’ mother, who was seated next to Thomas’ father, Ron.
Kang Schroeder, long rumored to be Rackauckas’s choice to replace him if he didn’t run for reelection as DA (or if he ran and then resigned), may want to convey that she and her boss were 100% on the side of the Thomases against the police — something that has always been somewhat in doubt given how many similar cases T-Rack has refused to bring — but even if he worked hard and smart here I don’t think that people will buy it.
The criticisms I’ve heard of Rackauckas from people who have been watching the trial are a little uninformed. “Why didn’t he do more to humanize Kelly Thomas?” Probably because the judge believed, following the law, that Kelly Thomas’s “degree of humanity” was not an issue in the trial and that raising it would simply serve to inflame — the legal term is “to prejudice” — the jury with information irrelevant to what they were supposed to be considering. I’ll take a look at more criticisms of his trial practice as they appear. (It would be interesting to know whether Rackauckas had even tried to bring positive character evidence about Thomas. If he didn’t, it would have been smart of him to at least try, knowing that he’d almost surely be slapped down, just to have his having tried entered into the record.)
The shutout of Rackauckas — and I’d bet that the only one that really surprised him was losing the “excessive use of force” verdict against Cicinelli — reinforces my view that the next DA won’t be T-Rack or Susan Kang Schroeder or even Todd Spitzer, who came out against T-Rack too early and too hard to escape retribution from his wounded ex-boss. With this verdict, the time may be ripe for one of the real, honest and non-political professional prosecutors in the DA’s office to run. And if the outcome of the Kelly Thomas verdict is to clean the politics out of the DA’s office and leave solely professionalism, then today’s verdict will, ironically, do more good for the County than anything else.
Will that happen? I don’t know — but every (metaphorical) rock thrown at T-Rack in the wake of this verdict seems likely to make that more probable. And it will be so very, very, very interesting to see what Todd Spitzer has to say.
* UPDATE 5 — Will There Be a Federal Trial on Civil Rights Charges?
I highly doubt it. They’d have to show that the police were motivated by animus against Kelly Thomas based on his membership in a group or due to his exercise of a right. You can make a case that they were going after him because he was mentally ill — but that’s a harder case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt than you see here. And at most, it would apply to Ramos (and Wolfe), because it’s not clear that Cicinelli even knew who he was smashing in the face, let alone whether they were mentally ill. As for “exercise of a right” — that seems unlikely too. Even if Thomas was set up by the Slidebar staff or unfairly targeted by the cops themselves, that’s not likely to reach all the way to the murder.
Thomas had good reason to want to escape from Ramos — he was clearly being intimidated — but people (even mentally ill people) still don’t have the right to run from cops who are in the process of arresting him. (If they’re in the process of beating him to death at that time, sexually molesting him, etc., then that’s different. But threats of violence if one doesn’t comply with orders isn’t enough.) This is a real problem with the law, if you believe that cops sometimes kill people in (essentially) cold blood, but that’s where the law stands. I’d be very surprised to see the federal District Attorney take this to trial. If I’m wrong, great. But I think that the remedy here will come from Ron Thomas’s civil trial.
* UPDATE 4 — How Could This Happen? — CICINELLI VERDICTS
I thought that Cicinelli was probably guilty of manslaughter and very likely guilty of excessive use of force. He was also possibly guilty of felony murder — at least he was a better choice to be charged with it than was Ramos. The question in his case was whether he was following — and correctly implementing — Fullerton Police Department policy when he bashed Thomas repeatedly in the face with a Taser. I don’t think that he was. If he was following FPD policy, then Fullerton should stand to lose big in civil court.
I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the trial to see how Cicinelli could be acquitted even of the excessive use of force charge, but that one does surprise me. It sends a terrible message to cops, to those regulating cops, and to people on the street. (How long before “these fists are going to fuck you up” becomes a battle cry in interactions with people on the street?) Fullerton officials may not want to deal with this problem given the likelihood of a wrongful death lawsuit from Ron Thomas — he certainly has earned the right to bring one — but even at the cost of possibly slanting the odds in favor of a civil verdict against the City they have GOT to get out in front of this and make clear what police conduct is and is not acceptable. What Cicinelli did was not acceptable — period.
* UPDATE 3 — How Could This Happen? — RAMOS VERDICTS
My take from the outset has been that Ramos was overcharged and Cicinelli was undercharged.
With Ramos, the main question was whether, in context, his putting on the gloves and telling Thomas that his fists were “going to fuck him up” was an announcement of the intent to commit murder. That was always a stretch. The defense attorney asserted that this was mere sarcasm, but that’s also a stretch. (Why is he saying that? Because telling the truth would screw Ramos in the civil trial.) The truth, so far as I can tell, is that Ramos was trying to intimidate Thomas into cooperating — and Thomas instead ran. In doing so, he was doing what the Fullerton Police Department wanted him to do.
I thought that there was a better case for involuntary manslaughter, but it was still iffy. The police have immunity if they’re acting reasonably. What Ramos should have been charged with, along with manslaughter, was use of excessive force.
As it turned out, unfortunately, given the Cicinelli verdict that probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Does this mean that what Ramos did was OK? No, not at all. It means that he was not held to be individually liable. If he was following the procedures of the Fullerton Police Department, and if those procedures were bad, it’s the City rather than the cop that takes the hit.
*UPDATE 2 — “NOT GUILTY” IS NOT THE SAME AS “INNOCENT”
Remember, in a criminal trial the standard used is “beyond a reasonable doubt” — maybe about 90-95% certainty. That’s a hard standard to reach — even here. In a civil trial, the standard is “preponderance of the evidence” — 50% + an iota more. As with OJ Simpson, people sometimes get off on the criminal trial but get slammed on the criminal trial. For one thing, the likelihood is greater that the officers would need to testify.
* UPDATE 1 — RECAP FROM KFI on Where Things Stand
Former Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, a one-time LAPD officer, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and the use of excessive force stemming from Thomas’ July 5, 2011 arrest at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
Jurors began deliberating late Thursday morning and took Friday off before resuming deliberations this morning. The jury’s verdict is expected to be read shortly.
Thomas was confronted at the Fullerton bus depot after someone called police and reported that someone was trying to break into cars. The ensuing confrontation, which was captured on video and audio recordings, became increasingly combative — with Ramos eventually pulling on latex gloves and telling Thomas “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to (expletive) you up,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told jurors during the trial.
That threat was the foundation of Rackauckas’ legal theory that Ramos set the deadly struggle in motion and did nothing to try to stop it. Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, called that argument as ridiculous.
“The prosecution’s expert said that a threat with a baton is OK,” Barnett said, referring to an earlier encounter between Ramos and Thomas that did not turn violent. “But a threat with a fist is not, and I don’t think the jury will believe that. … It’s a ridiculous position to take and that’s the position they took.”
This just in:
January 13, 2014 Case # 11CF2575 MEDIA ADVISORY WHO/WHAT: The jury has reached verdicts in the trial against defendants Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. WHEN: Verdicts will be read today, Monday, January 13, 2014, at 3:30 p.m. WHERE: Department C-40, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana
* Note: IT’S NOW SCHEDULED FOR 4:00.
Ron Thomas is there, KFI is there, and reportedly the courtroom is not yet full. I’m just passing that on for what it’s worth; I don’t know if it’s true.
One Occupy-Style livestream is here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/inleague-press. Not a professional sort of feel, of course, but it gives you the sense of the look and feel outside of the courthouse. [Late update: one woman screaming about the verdict accused the live-streamers, who were maximally pro-conviction proponents, of themselves being “part of the problem.” I’ve rarely heard people more confused about how to respond to something.]