The mother of Kelly Thomas, a transient man who was critically beaten by Fullerton police officers and subsequently died from his injuries, will have to wait longer for answers as a judge struck down her request Thursday to view public records for copy of evidence.
Special Section: The Kelly Thomas Case
Thursday's ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Linda S. Marks was part of a long string of disappointments for Cathy Thomas. Her 37-year-old son, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in July 2011 after several officers were witnessed restraining him to the pavement by force.
Thomas' death and the actions taken by the police department after his death sparked intense community debate, part of the reason Cathy Thomas asked to view evidence.
"I think the primary failing is the lack of leadership in controlling the behaviors of the Fullerton Police Department and remaining virtually silent in the wake of the Kelly Thomas incident," said Chris Thompson, spokesperson for the blog Friends of Fullerton’s Future, in October during a broadcasted petition signing to advocate that public officials should not be protected by law when their actions are corrupted. "It took a month to pull these officers off the street.”
Thomas' family initially put a request in October for the public records and eventually filed suit on Dec. 13, demanding them.
"If the family lacks confidence of what the prosecutor is doing then this may be one way of saying we are looking over your shoulders. You need trust between prosecutors and the victim's family and maybe you don't have that much trust here," said Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School.
Sometimes families want to push through with a civil case faster than what the prosecutor is pushing through with the criminal case, and that may also be what is happening here, Levenson added.
The night Thomas was beaten, July 5, police were dispatched to investigate a suspicious man in a parking lot near the Fullerton Transportation Center, 123 S. Pomona Ave. Six officers responded.
A witness' cell phone video captured several officers on top of Thomas as he was heard yelling out for help. Thomas was transported to the hospital the night of the beating and died five days later after being taken off life support.
Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Bringing charges upon the other four officers was still an issue of contention, according to a spokeswoman for the Orange County DA's office, Susan Schroeder.
"The court made a very clear ruling today that allowing the evidence to be seen would hurt our case," Schroeder said. "The most important goal that the office has right now is to make sure that justice is done for Kelly Thomas and that we bring the people responsible who killed him to justice."
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas offered to show Cathy a videotape of the beating under the condition that she signs a stipulation that the DA does not have to comply with the public records request.
Ron Thomas, the victim's father, agreed to the stipulation and has already seen parts of the videotape, Schroeder said.
"We've been working and doing everything we are responsible to do for them under Marsy's Law," Schroeder said.
"They just want to know and they are entitled to know and unfortunately there is nothing in the law that says they are entitled to know," she said.
Releasing public evidence before the case goes before the court may jeopardize evidence and challenge the court's ruling.
"They have to present the fairest case possible and to that extent if evidence is out there tainting potential witnesses, that's a problem," Levenson said.
"The court correctly pointed out that possible other people could be charged in this case and are not in the clear," Schroeder said.
Thomas' family will have to wait longer for the answers they've been asking since July.
Both the officers who were charged in the beating death of Thomas pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 28.