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City pays $1 million to mother of homeless man beaten to death by police

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed May 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A wrongful death suit is pending against the city
  • Kelly Thomas, 37, who was homeless, was beaten last year in Fullerton, California
  • Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Patrick Cicinelli are charged in the death
  • They have pleaded not guilty to the charges

Read more about this story from CNN affiliate KCAL.

(CNN) -- The City of Fullerton, California, has reached a $1 million settlement with the mother of a mentally ill homeless man who died last year after a beating he received at the hands of police officers.

The settlement comes a week after a California judge ordered that two Fullerton police officers stand trial in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The city council unanimously approved the award during a closed-door session Tuesday.

"To lose a son at the hands of rogue police officers is an indescribable horror," said Brian Gurwitz, the attorney representing Cathy Thomas, Kelly's mother. "There is nothing this council could ever do to compensate her for the loss she's suffered."

The city and Cathy Thomas said in a joint statement that Thomas agreed to drop any potential legal claims against the city in exchange for the $1 million.

Kelly Thomas: "I can't breathe!"

"Resolution of Ms. Thomas' claim at this time allows her to begin the healing process and avoid what would likely be protracted, expensive and difficult litigation," the statement says.

The city noted in a separate statement that the city did not admit responsibility for Kelly Thomas' death as part of the settlement.

The settlement will not affect a separate wrongful death suit filed by Thomas' father.

"I'm not in the money game, whatever money ... I will get ... is going to go to the foundation that I started for Kelly," the father, Ron Thomas, told CNN affiliate KCAL-TV.

Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Patrick Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force in the July 5 incident.

They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Kelly Thomas was shirtless and wearing a backpack when Ramos first approached him in response to a call about a homeless man looking into car windows and pulling on handles of parked cars.

A graphic 16-minute video of the incident begins with Thomas -- a 37-year-old homeless man with schizophrenia -- sitting and being told by Ramos to put his feet out and hands on his knees.

When Thomas is slow to cooperate, Ramos then tells him: "You see my fists? They're getting ready to f--- you up."

Thomas, who is unarmed and shirtless, stands and another officer walks over. They hit him with their batons and hold him on the ground as he begs for help.

"OK, I'm sorry, dude. I'm sorry!" he screams. At one point, Thomas says he can't breathe. The officers tell him to lie on his stomach, put his hands behind his back and relax.

"OK, here, here, dude, please!" he says.

Other officers arrive.

At times, trees block the view of the camera, and it's not always clear who is doing what as officers pile on top of Thomas.

One uses a stun gun.

Thomas cries out for help and, toward the end of the beating, starts calling for his father: "Dad! Help me. Help me. Help me, Dad."

His voice gets softer and trails off. By the end of the video, he is lying in a pool of blood as the officers wonder out loud what to do next.

One can be heard saying: "We ran out of options, so I got to the end of my Taser and I ... smashed his face to hell."

Thomas died five days after the incident. The FBI is investigating civil rights violations in the case, as well.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has said that Thomas suffered brain injuries, facial fractures, rib fractures and extensive bruising and abrasions. The county coroner listed his manner of death as a homicide and said he died because he was unable to breathe after having his chest compressed.

Ramos, 37, a 10-year veteran of the police department, would face a maximum sentence of 15 years to life if convicted, authorities said. Cicinelli, 39, a 12-year Fullerton police veteran, would face a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.

Six Fullerton officers, including Ramos and Cicinelli, were put on paid leave after Thomas' death. The case drew widespread attention to the police department of Fullerton, a city about 25 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

CNN's Michael Martinez, Stan Wilson and Irving Last contributed to this report.

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