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California cop pleads not guilty to murder in beating

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 26, 2011 -- Updated 1912 GMT (0312 HKT)
Officer Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty Monday after being charged in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man.
Officer Manuel Ramos pleaded not guilty Monday after being charged in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos pleads not guilty to 2nd-degree murder
  • Charge relates to the beating death of 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man
  • Another officer pleaded not guilty on lesser charges in the case last week

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A Fullerton, California, police officer pleaded not guilty Monday after being charged in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man, an official in a local prosecutor's office said.

Manuel Ramos, 37, a 10-year veteran of the Fullerton police department, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. His next scheduled court date is for a pretrial hearing November 4, according to Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff in the Orange County District Attorney's office.

His bail remains at $1 million after Judge Erick L. Larsh denied the defendant's request to reduce that amount, Schroeder said.

On Wednesday, another officer in the department, Cpl. Jay Patrick Cicinelli, pleaded not guilty on counts of involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force in the same case. He was released on $25,000 bail, according to his attorney and a spokeswoman for the prosecutor.

Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man with schizophrenia, was beaten by police during an altercation July 5 and died five days later. The FBI is investigating possible civil rights violations in his case.

The case drew widespread attention to the police department of Fullerton, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Two other allegations of brutality at the hands of city police have surfaced since, one of which led Officer Kenton Hampton to be placed on paid leave, a department spokesman said.

Six Fullerton officers, including Ramos and Cicinelli, were put on leave after Thomas' death. The Orange County District Attorney's office said this month that no charges were filed against the other four because "the evidence does not show knowing participation in an unlawful act on the part of these officers."

Besides sorting through physical and other evidence, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and fellow prosecutors viewed 16 minutes of bus depot surveillance video showing what happened.

Thomas suffered brain injuries, facial fractures, rib fractures, and extensive bruising and abrasions, the prosecutor's office said. The Orange County coroner listed his manner of death as a homicide and said he died after having his chest compressed, leaving him unable to breathe.

Ramos had made initial contact with Thomas -- whom he knew as a "homeless drifter" -- after police received a call about a homeless man looking in car windows and pulling on handles of parked cars, Rackauckas said.

"He lifted his fists to Kelly Thomas and he said, 'You see my fist? Now they're getting to ready to F you up,' " Rackauckas said, using "F" instead of the full profanity.

The district attorney said Ramos' conduct was unacceptable and "not protecting and serving" the public.

"Ramos had to know that he was creating a situation where Kelly Thomas feared for his life and was struggling to get away from an armed officer who was going to F him up," Rackauckas said.

Cicinelli arrived at the scene later. He is accused of using excessive force when he allegedly assaulted and beat Thomas, including using the front end of his Taser to hit the victim on the head and face eight times while he was pinned to the ground by other officers.

At that point, Thomas was making no audible sounds, indicating that he was "down and seriously injured," the prosecutor's office said.

Last week, the arraignment for Ramos was pushed back until Monday at the request of his attorneys.

At the time, the victim's father, Ron Thomas, urged the judge not to reduce Ramos' bail -- then, and now, at $1 million -- because of "the horrible manner in which my son was murdered."

If convicted on all counts, Ramos could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, authorities said.

CNN's Stella Chan contributed to this report.

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