“Stop Violence Against the Homeless.” Photo courtesy of National Coalition for the Homeless


by Neil Donovan

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]anta Ana, Calif. — Every American has the right to self defense, even against police officers, and no one in law enforcement has the right to use unreasonable force in the performance of their duty.
That was the determination made by Tony Rachauckas, district attorney in Orange County, after examining evidence of the July 5th beating murder of Kelly Thomas, a mentally disabled homeless man whose life was brutally cut short by at least two on-duty Fullerton police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli.
A total of six officers were put on paid administrative leave after Thomas’ death.
Then, on September 21, Officer Ramos was charged with second degree murder for craven acts that “were reckless and created a high risk of death and great bodily injury,” to the homeless man, said Rachauckas. Cicinelli, the second officer charged, is now charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony excessive force.
The California district attorney chillingly described the last moments of Kelly Thomas in excruciating detail, recalling his numerous pain-filled pleas of, “I’m sorry. I can’t breathe. Help, Dad!”
The district attorney described the police assault on Thomas as a “violent and desperate struggle.” Witnesses gave a full description of the shocking extent of his injuries and the brutality of the officers’ acts.
Thomas died from brain injuries, as a result of overwhelming head trauma. He also suffered a variety of broken bones in his nose, cheeks, head and ribs. Thomas also was shocked repeatedly by police tasers on his head, face, back and chest cavity. The medical report showed that Thomas suffered internal bleeding, causing him to choke on his own blood.
This inhumane assault on Thomas was conducted by no less than a half dozen officers responding to a call of vehicles being broken into. Following the beating, no evidence could be found of vehicles burglarized in the area, nor was any stolen property found on Thomas.
Thomas died because six officers of the Fullerton Police Department didn’t know how to react or respond to a mentally disabled person in distress and crisis. When faced with a situation that caused confusion, law enforcement at the scene chose brutal force to subdue Thomas.
This was not an example of appropriate police procedures gone awry. This was a clear case of criminal violence, which caused the death of Thomas. This could have all been avoided by the appropriate training of law enforcement in engaging a variety of types of individuals with mental illnesses. It should have been avoided by Thomas receiving the appropriate treatment in a place he could call home.
Neil Donovan is the director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.