UPDATE: Charges against Joseph Wolfe, the third former Fullerton police officer accused in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, were officially dropped on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
An ex-police officer will not face charges in the beating death of a homeless man at a Fullerton transit station after two of his former colleagues were acquitted in the case Monday, the Orange County District Attorney said.
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“We had a fair trial, we gave the jury all of the evidence and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to try to do that again,” OC DA Tony Rackauckas.
Former Officer Joseph Wolfe had been facing a count of manslaughter, but the case will be dropped, Rackauckas said.
That news came within hours of a jury acquitting former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli of all charges in the July 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man with schizophrenia.
Reaction was emotional on both sides after the verdict was read. Ramos and Cicinelli began to cry when they were acquitted, with Cicinelli hugging his attorney. Thomas’ father, Ron, burst into tears, kicking or stomping his foot.
“Despite the fact that he’s my son, I’ve never in my life seen something this bad happen to a human begin and then to have it happen by on-duty police officers and then they walk Scott free,” Ron Thomas told reports outside the courtroom.
The case ignited outrage in the community and led to the recall of three Fullerton City Council members, the departure of the city’s police chief and a scathing report that accused the department of ignoring misconduct among its ranks.
Dozens of people attended the trial each day wearing yellow ribbons and buttons bearing Thomas' image.
"It's a disappointing day. It's a sad day," Julie McDonnell, a concerned citizen and 22-year resident of Fullerton, said outside the courtroom. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also called the verdict "disappointing."
The officers’ defense attorney, John Barnett, said his clients were acting within their rights.
“These peace officers were doing their jobs,” Barnett said. “They were operating as they were trained and they had no malice in their hearts, they were not out to get somebody that night. They were working.”
Jurors were handed the case on Jan. 9 and entered into deliberations on Monday, hours before the verdict came down.
The trial included five weeks of testimony highlighted by a key piece of surveillance video and audio recordings from the night of July 5, 2011, when Kelly Thomas encountered officers as they investigated a report of someone trying to break into vehicles near the Fullerton Transportation Center.
The video shows the confrontation escalate to violence involving six officers and Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia. Thomas could be seen on the ground crying out for his father nearly 30 times, apologizing and begging for air.
Thomas struggled with officers, but only because he "was just trying to survive," the district attorney told jurors, adding that Thomas was never informed of intent to arrest him.
Thomas was taken to a hospital and placed on life support. He died at a hospital five days later.
Investigators later determined that Thomas was not responsible for the break-in attempts.
Defense attorneys claimed Thomas was a violent, unpredictable man who was to blame for the altercation because he was combative and ignored officers’ orders.
The coroner's report determined Thomas died from chest compression during the struggle.