An Orange County grand jury will convene on Wednesday in a closed-door session to discuss what role, if any, former Fullerton Police officer Joe Wolfe may have played in the July 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas.
Prosecutors initially said there was not enough evidence to prosecute Wolfe, one of six officers seen on surveillance video while the 37-year-old homeless man was beaten at a Fullerton bus depot for allegedly refusing to comply.
Wolfe reportedly called for backup during the incident. Thomas died five days after the beating.
Wolfe’s attorney questions the timing of the grand jury investigation – more than a year after Thomas’ death and on the heels of his being cleared of any wrongdoing – and says she is perplexed as to how Wolfe could be criminally culpable.
Wolfe began his career with the Fullerton Police Department in 1999 and ended on July 16. Before that, he had been on paid administrative leave in connection with the fatal beating.
Two officers were ordered in May to stand trial for Thomas’ beating death. Former officer Manuel Ramos is facing second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Former corporal Jay Cicinelli is facing involuntary manslaughter.
Kelly Thomas Case: Timeline, Photos
If convicted on the murder charge, Ramos faces 15 years to life. Both officers face up to four years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Three other officers involved in the incident have returned to duty.
Still, Ron Thomas says he thinks Wolfe should answer for his son’s death.
"It’s not over by a long ways," Thomas said. "I still have Wolfe to be charged and I am working on that. I hope the DA will do that one day, and hopefully soon."
"He called out for me, knowing that if anybody could save him it would be me," Thomas said, referencing surveillance video that captured the incident with video and audio. In it, the 37-year-old man can be heard repeatedly screaming for his father.
Thomas says he also wants his son’s name cleared of any criminal accusations. On the night of the incident, an employee from the Slidebar claimed she saw a homeless man breaking into cars.
And police found paperwork belonging to an attorney in Kelly Thomas’ backpack. The attorney, Casey Hull, said the papers were trash, not stolen by Thomas.
"It is so important because it is the final step in clearing his name. That’s really important. There’s a jury pool out there. Even without that the people themselves need to know that Kelly was just a citizen minding his own business," he said.