The former Fullerton corporal acquitted in the in-custody death of transient Kelly Thomas is seeking to get his job back, now that the criminal charges are behind him, one of his attorneys said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Thomas' father held a news conference in Los Angeles with his attorney to announce deposition notices were issued Tuesday to the officers named in the civil suit he filed against the city on the one-year anniversary of the July 5, 2011, confrontation at the city bus depot that led to his 37-year-old son's death five days later.
Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli's attempt to win his job back was put on hold during the trial, which ended Monday with him being cleared of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. He can now begin the process of regaining the post he lost in July 2012 through an administrative hearing, said his attorney Zachery Lopes.
The hearing, which can be public if Cicinelli wishes, would lead to a recommendation to city officials, Lopes said. If city officials refuse to take Cicinelli back onto the force, the ex-corporal can seek a "writ of mandate" in Orange County Superior Court, Lopes said.
If a Superior Court judge rules against Cicinelli, then he could try to appeal to higher courts, but that is rare and difficult to do, Lopes said.
It was not known if former Office Manuel Ramos, who was acquitted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in Thomas' death, would try to get his post back.
Former Officer Joe Wolfe, who was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force and also lost his job in July 2012, is likely to have the criminal matter dismissed, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said after Monday's verdicts.
Thomas' father and Mardirossian hope federal authorities bring a federal civil rights action against the officers.
"I think it's very important that the federal government step in," Ron Thomas told reporters at a news conference at his attorney's office. "That's what we really want as a family."
On Monday evening, the FBI released a statement noting that it opened an investigation in 2011 "to determine if Mr. Thomas' civil rights were violated during the altercation with Fullerton police officers. With the conclusion of the state court trial, investigators will examine the evidence and testimony to determine if further investigation is warranted at the federal level."
Mardirossian said he believes Ron Thomas' lawsuit will fare better than the criminal case because there's a lower standard of proof. The plaintiffs have to prove criminal negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, instead of the criminal court's standard of reasonable doubt.
"It'll be a different judge, different standard of proof and different protections not afforded to civil defendants as in a criminal (proceeding)," Mardirossian said.
Cicinelli and Ramos could refuse to testify and invoke their Fifth Amendment rights in a criminal trial, Mardirossian said. But they will be compelled to testify in the civil proceeding, he said.
"Right now these cops were made to look like they were heroes and they vilified Kelly and humanized the cops," Mardirossian said. "It won't be that easy the next time around because they can't avoid taking the stand in the civil case. They're going to have to get in front of a jury and explain why they did what they did."
One piece of evidence that is more likely to get before a jury in the civil suit is the reason why Ramos, Cicinelli and Wolfe are no longer on Fullerton's payroll, Mardirossian said.
In the criminal trial, Cpl. Stephen Rubio, who was Cicinelli's training officer, and Sgt. Kevin Craig, who was the supervising officer on the scene of the struggle with Thomas, testified the two officers did not violate policy. That prompted, Rackauckas to file a motion rarely used by prosecutors seeking information on administrative actions taken against the officers by their employers.
Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg would not let prosecutors tell jurors why Ramos and Cicinelli were no longer working for Fullerton, but he did admonish jurors to not consider Rubio's and Craig's comments regarding policy.
Another issue that would likely come into play in the civil trial that was not contested much in the criminal case is Kelly Thomas' mental health.
His parents maintain their son was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, but defense attorneys said there was no evidence of that. Mardirossian said he can prove it with "volumes" of evidence.
"Doctor after doctor, psychiatrists, psychologists, caseworkers -- they all said he had classic symptoms of schizophrenia," Mardirossian said, adding the first diagnosis came in 1995 after Thomas was arrested for attacking his grandfather with a fireplace poker.
"He was a mentally ill man who had a couple of unusual incidents, but 99 percent of the time he was very polite and stayed out of people's way," Mardirossian said.
- City News Service