Yesterday, the Orange County District Attorney's office announced that two of the Fullerton police officers involved in the Kelly Thomas beating were being charged with, among other crimes, involuntary manslaughter. Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second degree murder and with involuntary manslaughter and Officer Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery by a police officer.
See the Los Angeles Times story HERE.
As for the crime of involuntary manslughter, it seems somewhat puzzling at first blush why that charge would be leveled against the officers. However, under California law involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a person without malice "in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection." (California Penal Code, § 192, subd. (b).). According to case law, the definition of the crime can be otherwise stated this way: if a misdemeanor such as simple assault, battery or unlawful discharge of a firearm results in death, the homicide may be involuntary manslaughter. Similarly, if someone lawfully acts in self-defense but uses excessive force, the homicide may be involuntary manslaughter. By definition, involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing.
To support a theory that someone used excessive force while acting in self-defense, there must be evidence from which a jury could find the nature of the attack did not justify the resort to deadly force in self-defense or that the force used in self-defense exceeded that which was reasonably necessary to repel the attack. Deadly force is justified only to repel an attack which is itself deadly or likely to result in great injury. .
In the Thomas case, there appears to have been reason for the Fullerton Police to contact Thomas in order to investigate a report that he or someone looking like him was burglarizing cars. Assuming that Thomas resisted the efforts of the police to investigate (and there is at least some indication he ran from them), then they were entitled to use a reasonable amount of non-deadly force to detain and/or arrest him. However, the conduct of Ramos and Cicinelli as described by the District Attorney's office would seem to go well beyond what was reasonable or justified in these circumstances, perhaps fitting the definition of involuntary manslaughter.
The reasoning behind the other two charges of second degree murder and battery by a police officer in the performance of his duty seem obvious. If this was a murder, it is unlikely it was committed with premeditation and deliberation, the requirements of first degree murder. Under California, law any murder not meeting the technical definition of first degree murder is considered murder in the second. Assuming that Cicinelli went beyond the force reasonably necessary to effect the detention/arrest of Thomas, then the force he used would be unlawful and considered a battery.
Compensation for the victims of excessive force by the police should be an important concern for all Californians. When a member of the public is subjected to police brutality, the police department should be held accountable and compensation paid to the victim or the victim's family. An Orange County civil rights attorney with experience at handling such cases can make a fair assessment of these claims. Mr. Ralph has more than 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, including just this type. He can be reached at 714-919-4415 for a FREE CONSULTATION.
Have you or a family member been a victim of police brutality?
Nothing in this post is intended to suggest the Law Offices of Paul W. Ralph currently represents anyone involved in the news story above. This posting should not be construed as legal advice or an opinion on the merit of any particular matter. A consultation is the best way to obtain an assessment of your potential case.