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Will Kelly Thomas set a precedent for future police brutality cases?

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Supporters of Kelly Thomas broke into cheers early Wednesday as Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced charges against Officer Manual Ramos and Corporal Jay Cicinelli.

Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cicinelli with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. They could face up to 15 years to life and four years in state prison, respectively, if convicted.

Rackauckas spoke on KPCC's Patt Morrison show after the press conference.

"I'm upset not just because one person would commit such a terrible act, but because of the impact that it has on the police, he said.

"We have thousands and thousands of police officers that are professional, responsible, and act in a proper way at all times."

Jarrett Lovell, associate professor of criminal justice at Cal State Fullerton, has been teaching the Kelly Thomas case in his undergraduate courses and said the Thomas case shows a contrast to how the public usually thinks of police officers.

"When we think of law enforcement, we recognize that so much of police work is about appearances, and creating the appearance of law and order," Lovell said.

"Police are pretty image savvy, so the Kelly case really shows what can happen when police lose control over their own public image."

For some, the outcome of the prosecution came as a shock. Richard Winton, crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, said that the amount of material evidence made a difference. A pole camera at the Fullerton Transportation Center, digital audio recording devices on Ramos and Cicinelli's persons, and cell phone videos taken by witnesses are among several of the sources that helped investigators come to a conclusion.

"In the end, this is an unbiased witness. The officers said what they said," Winton remarked.

Lovell said that Ramos and Cicinelli lost control of their behavior, but also their information.

"Information is power, and we see that with everybody having access to a little video camera in their cellphones," he said. "When the police fail to fill the news vacuum, people are going to fill it."

Lovell said a large part of public outrage stemmed from law enforcement's failure to update citizens with information about the case.

"I also think there are teachable moments for citizens, that they don't need to rely on media themselves, said Lovell, adding, "They can become the media."

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Are the convictions fair? We're the Fullerton officers just doing their jobs? Should the police change their training program? What are some lessons both law enforcement and citizens can take from this?


Tony Rackauckas, Orange County District Attorney

Richard Winton, crime reporter, Los Angeles Times

Jarret Lovell, associate professor of criminal justice at Cal State Fullerton and author of “Good Cop Bad Cop: Mass Media and the Cycle of Police Reform;” he’s been teaching the Kelly Thomas case in his undergraduate courses