Many of you may already be aware of the tragic case of Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man whose death following a violent altercation with Orange County police officers in July 2011 shocked the U.S.
Over the last few days, the case has been concluded in the favour of the police officers who conducted the assault.
At approximately 20:30 on the 5th July 2011, police officers from the Fullerton Police Department were called out in response to a call regarding a potential car vandal. At the scene was a shirtless Thomas, who, despite there being no obvious signs of vandalism to cars, was searched. The statements given by the officers who responded stated that Thomas was not willing to co-operate with them. Then, as Officer Manny Ramos slipped on a pair of latex gloves, he told Mr Thomas that his fists were “getting ready to fuck [him] up”, before assisting in a violent restraint of Thomas. Claiming that Thomas was giving resistance, the officers used a taser on him (perhaps as many as five times), whilst Mr Thomas repeatedly called out for his father, who was not present at the scene, to help him. After calling for back-up (to make a total of six officers at the scene), the barrage of pummelling, tasing and beating continued.
After the assault, Mr Thomas was taken to two medical centres; first, the St Jude Medical Centre, then to the UC Irvine Medical Centre. It is believed that the paramedics who arrived at the scene were initially called out not to attend to the severe wounds of Mr Thomas, but rather for a minor injury suffered by one of the officers; it was only when Thomas was seen by the paramedics lying unconscious in a pool of blood that they attended to him. A paramedic provided this information under testimony.
Part of the evidence used in the trial was a full-length city surveillance video, paired with audio from the audio recording equipment attached to one of the police officers present at the event. The full video of the restraint can be viewed here. Some readers may find it very disturbing; I certainly did.
If you could stomach watching the video in its entirety, it will no doubt shock and repulse you to know that in the last few days, a district court judge, Tony Rackauckus, has ruled that the California police officers with charges against them, Manny Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, have been cleared.
Whilst my following conclusions drawn from this case may not be universally accepted, I still feel it necessary to state them. Kelly Thomas’s death is an obscene injustice, which should count for at least a charge of unlawful killing, if not a charge of murder.
The defence case for the police officers under scrutiny rested on the premise that what they were doing was in line with their training, and that no prior knowledge of Mr Thomas’s mental condition was known before the restraint was carried out. The only thing necessary to say regarding this defence is that if it is standard procedure for law enforcement training to include learning how to put on latex gloves (likely used to prevent the spread of DNA), and to announce “See these fists? …They’re getting ready to fuck you up”, then we are all in more trouble than we realised.
Consistently, Mr Thomas’s use of drugs and alcohol were dragged up to demonstrate that he was a volatile individual. Indeed, in the footage, you can hear officers exclaim that he is “on something” as they hold him down. However, a county pathologist testified that Mr Thomas had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the assault; to further question this contention, Mr Thomas’s father also claims to possess numerous drug tests conducted upon Kelly from many separate occasions which all come back as negative for drugs being present in his body.
For the family of Mr Thomas, the judge’s ruling will bring no catharsis, no peace, no ‘true’ justice in their eyes. The question to now ask is, what is to be done?
The DA office has already stressed that they will not pursue the case any further. However, the FBI has announced that it is taking steps to decide whether there is warrant to investigate the case at a federal level. If it is seen fit to re-open the case at a federal level, the case will be brought before a federal court.
It is too easy and far too cliché to invoke George Orwell’s name at the drop of a politically motivated hat. But, as with many cases of civil liberty, Orwell’s example remains of ultimate prescience. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, after the protagonist Winston Smith has endured physical and psychological torture in Room 101 at the oppressive hands of The Party, the agent charged with “re-educating” Smith, O’Brien, utters the unforgettable line; “If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.” In the Kelly Thomas video, it was not just one boot; it was six officers, with gloved fists, tasers, batons, knees, and handcuffs.
It is the fundamental civil argument of the libertarian that the picture that Orwell pessimistically envisaged needs to be re-painted before it ever comes to fruition. If justice is sought after in the particular, such as in the case of Kelly Thomas, there is a hope of changing the universal.
And if nothing else, remain vigilant of your individual rights to freedom; particularly in the face of power which exists with the mindset that it knows better than you.