Late last month Orange County’s District Attorney filed a motion to review the personnel records of ex-Fullerton Police Officers Manual Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, currently on trial in the death of Kelly Thomas. The DA is seeking to undermine the credibility of a defense witness, FPD Cpl. Stephen Rubio, who earlier testified that neither of the men acted outside of department policy the night that Thomas was severely beaten and never regained consciousness. Prosecutors in the case will only have access to the parts of the records involving the officers’ interactions with Kelly Thomas on July 5, 2011.
Presiding Judge William Froeberg ruled for the prosecution on December 27, to allow the DA’s team to see the records. These records will presumably show that both officers were fired for their actions, casting doubt on Cpl. Rubio’s testimony in court that neither man violated department policy by first threatening, then beating Kelly Thomas.
An appeal to that ruling was almost immediately filed by Greg Palmer, an attorney representing the City of Fullerton. On Dec. 31 The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled against Fullerton. The Fullerton Police Department will now be required to turn over records relating to the investigation and termination of the officers.
California law makes it so difficult to release state employee personnel information that the jury may ultimately not have access to the records in question. Even Mr. Palmer’s acknowledgement that both officers had been fired was unusual. Although the judge must still decide whether or not the information in the otherwise confidential files can be used in court, the court’s denial of the City of Fullerton’s appeal represents a victory for the prosecution in the case.
Residents of our city should be asking who directed Attorney Greg Palmer to file the appeal of behalf of the City of Fullerton to prevent the release of the records. The matter was never brought before the City Council. The city has a responsibility to not release employee personnel records, but they do not have an obligation to file an appeal against a court order to release them. Under this extraordinary circumstance of a criminal trial of two ex-police officers charged in the death of a man, shouldn’t the City Council have had the opportunity to provide some direction?
Filing the appeal opens the city to accusations that it is interceding in a criminal court case on the side of the defendants in an effort to minimize a potentially large payout in a separate civil suit filed by Ron Thomas over the death of his son. If the former officers are not found guilty, Mr. Thomas will have less of a case against the city. Are we, as a city, so cynical that we would act to reduce our possible future financial liability instead of seeing justice done in a fair and open court process?
Or was money even the issue at all? Instead, are we seeing the influence of the Fullerton Police Department extend so far that it can dictate the city’s legal actions on behalf of it’s accused, albeit cast out, brethren in blue? What is the city’s motive here, and who unilaterally set this action in motion?