From: Orange County Register
By Vik Jolly 5/27/14
A former federal prosecutor says it’s not likely, unless new evidence comes to light.
The former Fullerton police officers who were charged but acquitted in the beating death of a homeless man are not likely to face federal charges despite an ongoing investigation into whether they violated the man’s civil rights, according to a legal expert.
“I would not expect – unless they get new evidence – that federal prosecutors will file this case,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and a Loyola Law School professor. “The problems in the state prosecution will probably pop up again in a federal prosecution. So if they take it, it will be because they have different or additional evidence.”
John Barnett, the criminal defense lawyer who won acquittals for one of the two officers accused in the Fullerton case – and for a Los Angeles police officer in the watershed Rodney King case more than two decades ago – said there shouldn’t be a federal case against his client because “there’s no basis for it.”
“It doesn’t advance a federal issue over the state issue, which was vindicated by the state verdict,” said Barnett.
ACQUITTALS FOR POLICE
Barnett, who has prevailed in nearly all of his police misconduct cases over the years, won acquittal for ex-Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos in the death of Kelly Thomas after a confrontation at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
Ramos was the first police officer in Orange County history to be charged with murder for an incident that occurred while he was in uniform and on duty. He was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
The same Orange County jury of eight women and four men in January also acquitted former Fullerton police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority for his role in the July 5, 2011, altercation with Thomas.
Cicinelli’s lawyer, Michael Schwartz, said federal prosecutors will look at the evidence that comes out in a pending civil lawsuit brought by Thomas’ father against the officers and Fullerton, “because that may have a bearing on how they would scrutinize the case.”
Schwartz, who will also represent Cicinelli if he is charged with any federal offenses, said he hopes federal prosecutors impartially weighing the evidence realize that in Thomas’ death, a tragedy occurred, but a crime did not.
Ramos, 40, and Cicinelli, 42, were fired by the Fullerton Police Department a year after the encounter with Thomas.
‘I DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING RIGHT NOW’
Kelly Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, filed suit in 2012 against the city of Fullerton, former Chief Michael Sellers, Ramos and others connected with the Police Department, claiming excessive force in the death of his son.
Following the acquittals in the criminal trial, Thomas publicly called on the Department of Justice to file federal charges against Ramos, Cicinelli and a third officer, saying the fight to get justice was “not over.”
“I look at this like a prizefight. It’s not over,” Ron Thomas said then at a news conference in Los Angeles. “We still have several rounds to go.”
But Thomas is no longer as upbeat about potential federal charges and said he has “mixed feelings about the legal system” after the quick jury verdict in the state case.
“I wouldn’t be surprised” if no federal charges are brought, Thomas said in a recent telephone interview. “I don’t believe in the system. Again, how could the jury come back with not guilty, not even excessive force at a minimum? I don’t believe in anything right now.”
The FBI has obtained criminal-investigation records from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and has requested transcripts from the criminal trial, according to a motion Ramos filed in March in Orange County Superior Court.
“Our investigation is ongoing into whether or not civil right violations occurred,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.