I will never forget the first time I had to deal with a mentally ill homeless man. I was working part-time security during the Southern Baptist Convention’s major annual get-together at the Phoenix Civic Center when a homeless man well-known to be a mentally ill veteran started having one of his flashback episodes. All of the guards in the area converged on him at the same time I was ordered down to street level to try and handle the situation and call police if necessary. He was scaring people coming out of the civic center for lunch, and he either had to move someplace else or be arrested.
Other guards started yelling at him to move. Naturally, he started screaming at them. I stepped forward and talked to him like a human being. He suddenly calmed down and quit repeating “I ain’t goin’ back to the VA” like a mantra. I said, “there’s an awful lot of people walking by, they don’t understand what’s going on. They’re scared. We just need you to calm down a little bit and move off the main thoroughfare so you don’t get hurt, okay?” He didn’t smile at me, but he said, “these guys can all kiss my ass. For you, I’ll go. You’re alright.” Without another word, he moved along. From then on if he appeared while I was on duty I was always the one they called on (and believe me, the other guards were not happy about that).
I can’t remember how many mentally ill homeless people I’ve seen since then. At crime scenes, fire scenes and other major incidents, I’ve dealt with a lot of people who are either on drugs or mentally ill and being put up by the state. Most of them were not nearly as ready to talk as my first experience was. I’ve dealt with mentally ill people who believed they were werewolves (and tried to attack me), believed they had satellites tracking them and I was part of some government conspiracy to kill them, even had one who believed I was his long-lost sister and the guys on my crew were trying to keep us apart. I’ve seen cops I know try to take them down and handcuff them and get punched, kicked, slapped, and bitten. At no time, however, have I ever seen any of the cops I’ve worked with get overly aggressive or threaten these people. Not once.
I’ve just seen the footage of the beginning of a confrontation between a homeless man in Fullerton, CA named Kelly Thomas and Fullerton Police. According to police reports, someone in the area had been vandalizing cars. Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos started talking to Kelly, and Kelly sat down. Ramos suddenly started getting aggressive, ordering Kelly to put his legs out straight and his hands on his knees. Kelly became a little passive-aggressive, telling Ramos he didn’t know how to do that; Ramos replied, “well, you’ll learn how to do it real quick!” Within seconds that turned into Ramos saying, “you see my fists? They’re getting ready to f–k you up!”
I didn’t see Kelly get angry at Ramos. Normally, I’d very carefully react to something like this because video of officers getting rough with a suspect almost always misses the lead-up to the incident, and most often we find later that the officers had no other choice because the suspect was fighting like hell. In this case, however, the start of the incident can be clearly seen as officer Ramos is, at first, talking calmly to Kelly. Between security cameras and the audio captured by an officer’s lapel mic, I can tell that this incident could have been avoided if officer Ramos hadn’t started getting sarcastic and wasn’t issuing threats. One friend who wears the badge (but does not work in Fullerton) says that he saw that, too, and he wondered the same thing – what was the purpose of threatening a guy who was sitting down, even if he was being a smartass?
It looks and sounds as if officer Ramos was simply convinced of his superiority and willing to use force no matter what. Even the cops I know will admit they know at least one guy like that – the guy who acts like a real-life Tackleberry and is always looking for a reason to use force. Those guys are few and far between, but they do exist. Ramos strikes me as that kind of cop.
I won’t post the photo of Kelly’s face that has begun to circulate. There is one picture of what he looked like after he received his initial medical treatment, and he is completely unrecognizable. I’ve seen some bad beatings but this one was worse than any I have ever seen, and it came from six police officers. The first two, Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cincinelli, started the whole thing. It appears to me that once the beating got into full swing – Cpl. Cincinelli Tased him five times and then started beating him with the handle of his Taser – Kelly simply didn’t know what to do. He appeared to be genuinely afraid that he was being beaten. I’ve seen people engaged in fights with cops screaming for help while still actively fighting with officers, but that’s not what I see in the video of Kelly Thomas.
I have noticed something, though: incidents like this almost always, nearly without fail, occur in liberal states where civilian ownership of guns is heavily restricted and the police are given free reign to do almost anything they want. Namely New York and California.
I hope that Ramos gets the book thrown at him. I didn’t see Cincinelli in the first portion of the video and don’t know if he realized how the whole thing started, but at no time is an officer trained to use the handle of his Taser to beat a suspect. The overwhelming majority of police officers are good people with big hearts and a desire to do something good in their community. Three good cops I know have been killed in the line of duty; one was a close friend long before he became a cop. All three died doing the right thing. I would strongly caution against blaming all cops for this horrific incident.
I hope more than anything that the Thomas family sees justice done and Manuel Ramos is never allowed to hold a position of authority ever again.