By Aaron Blevins, 7/12/2012
Local attorney is representing the plaintiffs
A local attorney has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the father of Kelly Thomas, a homeless Fullerton resident with schizophrenia who was allegedly beaten to death by the city’s police department last year.
During a press conference on Thursday, Garo Mardirossian, of Mardirossian & Associates, announced the filing alongside Thomas’ father, Ron, and a handful of other Fullerton residents who say they have also been harassed by officer Manuel Ramos and corporal Jay Cicinelli, the officers facing criminal charges in Thomas’ death.
Mardirossian outlined elements of the July 5, 2011 encounter, and said the officers present either were not properly trained or chose to ignore their training. He said it is their duty to treat citizens humanely, regardless of illness or socio-economic status.
“Officers are supposed to be trained, so when [an altercation] happens, you de-escalate, you verbalize, you talk, you solve the problem,” Mardirossian said. “You don’t resort to violence. It’s obvious these officers were not properly trained.”
According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the incident occurred after the Fullerton Police Department received a call concerning a homeless man who was looking through car windows and trying to open car doors at the city’s transportation center.
On scene, Ramos confronted 37-year-old Thomas, who was detained but not arrested. After searching Thomas’ backpack, the officer determined that some mail in Thomas’ possession did not belong to him. The questioning continued.
“Kelly became a bit of a smart-aleck at times, but they were having somewhat of a friendly banter,” Mardirossian said.
However, the conversation became increasingly aggressive, and Ramos is accused of steering it into a physical altercation, according to the district attorney. A nearly 10-minute beating ensued.
According to the district attorney’s office, after several blows, Thomas was severely bleeding, but the officers — a total of six were involved, but only Ramos and Cicinelli are facing charges — did not reduce their level of force. Thomas’ actions were described by the district attorney’s office as defensive in nature throughout the ordeal.
“All Kelly was doing was struggling to stay alive. He asked for forgiveness. He asked for help,” Mardirossian said, adding that he cried for his father, who was not on scene, 31 times.
The beating, which was caught on tape, put Thomas in a coma. On July 10, 2011, his family took him off life support. According to the coroner, he died of blunt cranial-facial injuries from punches, knees, Taser hits and other strikes, and his death was ruled a homicide. Thomas was unarmed and did not have drugs or alcohol in his system.
Mardirossian said the department is praised for its mental illness taskforce, but the officers involved either were not trained well enough or didn’t care. He said the officers sought to teach Thomas a lesson for “contempt of cop,” and showed no mercy.
“That’s not their job. …It’s vicious, it’s cruel,” Mardirossian said.
He said Thomas’ father, a former Orange County sheriff’s deputy, is hopeful that his son’s encounter with Fullerton officers will spur the department to treat people more humanely.
“We’re hoping that by the time the criminal case goes to court, there will be changes instituted,” Mardirossian said, adding that the criminal case will likely go to court well before the civil suit.
He also discussed who Thomas was as a person. Mardirossian mentioned Mark Powell, who had met Thomas after he found Powell’s wallet at a park and returned it to him at his home. The wallet still had all $147 in it, and Thomas would not take any reward, save for some recyclables he requested as he left.
“That’s the kind of person Kelly Thomas was,” Mardirossian said, adding that, although he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 22, his father had instilled in him honesty and the ability to determine right from wrong.
The local attorney also discussed new pieces of evidence, such as the digital audio recorder information from Ramos, as transcribed by the district attorney’s office.
“It corroborates everything we’ve been saying all along … that Kelly was no threat to these officers,” Mardirossian said. “Whether they realized he was mentally ill or not, they should have realized he was a human being.”
The announcement was made on the ground floor of the Mardirossian Law Building at Wilshire and Crescent Heights boulevards.