For more than a year, Ron Thomas has been trying to bring charges against ex-Fullerton police officer Joseph Wolfe, who he believes was ultimately responsible for the beating death of his son, Kelly. “He was the first one on him and the last one off,” Thomas said Friday at a news conference. Wolfe faces one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the July 2011 beating. Lucy Noland reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2012.
Ron Thomas, the father of a mentally ill homeless man who was fatally beaten last year during a confrontation with Fullerton police, said on Friday that he’s satisfied with the charges brought against former officer Joseph Wolfe earlier this week.
“Wolfe came down and beat him severely with a baton and then followed up as we’ve seen with the knees, the elbows, first one to attack him, the last one off of him and he managed to stay there and hold him the entire time for everyone else to do their part,” Thomas said during a Friday news conference at his lawyer’s office.
Thomas and his lawyer sat a table against a backdrop of photos depicting Kelly Thomas throughout his life.
Since July 2011, Thomas has been trying to get murder charges against the 13-year veteran of the force. On Thursday, Wolfe pleaded not guilty to one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Thomas said Orange County prosecutors have finally zeroed in on the man who he believes was more responsible for his son’s death than the five other officers who responded to a Fullerton bus depot on July 5, 2011, on a report that a homeless-looking man was trying to break into cars.
Wolfe – one of the first two officers on the scene – is accused of tackling Thomas to the ground with ex-cop Manuel Ramos, kneeing and punching Thomas, and using his body weight to minimize Thomas’ movement as the other officers arrived, the DA said.
Kelly Thomas died five days after the confrontation. Wolfe is the third former Fullerton police officer to face charges in his death.
“It was well worth the wait because we did need Officer Wolfe to be charged since he was the first one to club Kelly that night,” said Garo Mardirossian, Ron Thomas’ attorney.
“He was the only one that we could see on surveillance video kneeing Kelly in the chest repeatedly that broke numerous bones in Kelly’s ribs and chest. He’s the one that’s seen elbowing Kelly in the face with heavy elbow blows which broke his nose, his cheekbone, and which caused him to bleed internally and eventually drown in his own blood.”
As to why it took prosecutors so long to charge Wolfe, Mardirossian has a theory.
“At the preliminary hearing, it became evident that the lawyers for the two other officers basically threw Wolfe under the bus,” Mardirosssian said. “They clearly said that the person throwing the blows, the person that beat Kelly to death, was not their client. It was somebody else and that somebody else is Wolfe.”
Wolfe’s attorney maintains he is innocent, and that his client took no more than appropriate action within the law.
Former officer Manuel Ramos is facing second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Former corporal Jay Cicinelli is facing involuntary manslaughter.
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.
Wolfe was no longer employed by the city of Fullerton as of July 16. Three other officers involved in the incident have returned to duty.