A growing number of police agencies around the country require officers to use audio or video devices to document their interactions with people. While this can help provide evidence for trial or to exonerate officers accused of wrongdoing, it can also serve as a powerful check on police misconduct.
That’s precisely what happened in Fullerton, California, when an audio recorder carried by Officer Manuel Ramos captured him telling a mentally ill and homeless man that he was going to beat him.
According to the L.A. Times, Ramos “turned on the department-issued digital recorder strapped to his equipment belt when he responded to a call of suspicious behavior at a bus depot shortly after 8:30 p.m. July 5. The department’s policy calls for officers to activate their recorders, about the size of a deck of cards, almost any time they engage someone while on duty.”
When Ramos arrived at the bus depot, he encountered Kelly Thomas in the parking lot. According to the district attorney’s account, Ramos did not search Thomas for weapons because it was clear he was unarmed, but grew increasingly hostile as Thomas struggled to follow Ramos’s commands.
Video footage of the incident shows Ramos standing over Thomas and pulling on latex gloves. “See my fists?” Ramos is heard saying on the recording. “They are getting ready to f— you up.”
According to Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Ramos and several other officers then went on to beat Thomas with a baton, to punch and knee him repeatedly as he was pinned down, to shock him multiple times with a stun gun, and to strike him in the face with the stun device eight times. After several days in the hospital, Thomas died of a crushed thorax. No traces of drugs or alcohol were found in his body.
According to the D.A., the audio recording provided irrefutable proof that Ramos was intent on hurting Thomas, and led prosecutors to file the second-degree murder charge against Ramos.
According to news reports, Ramos is being held on $1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted on the second-degree murder charge. Another police officer, Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, was also criminally charged in connection with this incident. Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $25,000 bail.