Yesterday, the trial of former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, accused of beating Kelly Thomas into a coma and eventually causing his death, came to an end when the jury found them not guilty of all allegations. It is hard for us to find, in our minds based upon the evidence publicly available, any rational reason to justify the beating that led to the death of Kelly Thomas. We also recognize that it is understandable for a jury to find, that despite the circumstances of this case, the high bar of criminal responsibility was not cleared. It is rare for a jury to second guess the actions of police officers in the field.
Much has been written about the killing of Kelly Thomas in the two and a half years since his death. We focus today on District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who decided, given the high profile of the case, that it was necessary for him to step back into the courtroom, after a 23 years, and personally prosecute the case.
It’s been a rough couple of months for Rackauckas. In November a federal appeals court struck down a 2009 gang injunction for infringing civil rights. Just last week, the law blocking all sex offenders from county parks championed by Rackauckas, was struck down as well. Yesterday delivered Rackauckas his third strike.
In such cases, as the Kelly Thomas beating, successful prosecution of the accused hinges on two things; evidence and the ability of the prosecuting attorney to convince the jury of the guilt of the accused. There is no question that there was substantial evidence to convict the accused officers of the alleged crimes against Thomas.
That leaves the skill of the prosecutor as the only remaining component necessary to achieve a conviction. Mr. Rackauckas has many career prosecutors at his disposal in his office. His decision to take the lead, we understand, took many of his subordinates by surprise causing many to question his wisdom. During his prosecution of the case, many have questioned his tactics and skill. But the results of the past several months speak for themselves, as well as support the questions of the District Attorney’s subordinates. Rackauckas told the LA Times he wouldn’t change the way he prosecuted the case.
We have to wonder if it isn’t time for Rackauckas to retire.
His decision to take the lead in the prosecution of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinell is but one example of the misguided actions of a 70 year-old-man trying to recapture the glory of his youth. His zeal in perusing a blanket ban of all sex offenders from parks, and gang injunctions that assign guilt by association to suspected gang members, only reinforces the view that Rackauckas has spent much of his recent years in office chasing headlines.
We can only hope that Mr. Rackauckas doesn’t decide to throw a Hail Mary pass, and take on the prosecution of Carlos Bustamante in an attempt to reclaim his lost glory. But perhaps that is what Mr. Bustamante is praying for.