Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Third Police Officer Indicted in Homeless Man Beating Death

Joe Wolfe

Joseph Wolfe

The now-infamous surveillance tape of the deadly police beating of homeless Kelly Thomas showed it was Officer Joseph Wolfe, 37,  who struck first with his baton. Two Fullerton policemen, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, have already been indicted in relation to the July 5, 2011 incident, and yet, Wolfe avoided criminal charges — until now.

On Thursday, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced that a grand jury had indicted Wolfe for involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. Wolfe pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison. The DA’s office hopes to try all three officers at once, although that trial will likely not be until next year.

Wolfe, who is no longer with the Fullerton Police Department, was released on $25,000 bail. His defense attorney Vicki Podberesky surmised that the new charges were instigated by politics in the face of public outrage at the videotaped beating. “To say the least, we’re very disappointed and really are confused and perplexed by the change of course by the district attorney’s office,” she told reporters, “Given that we are not aware of any new evidence that would affect the original evaluation of the case.”

Kelly Thomas

Kelly Thomas

Ron Thomas, Kelly’s father, expressed thanks to the district attorney for pursuing the case against Wolfe, whom he said “was there to slaughter Kelly. Kelly was trying to get away, and he never tried to apprehend him but he did continue to beat him severely.”

Earlier this month, Fullerton’s acting chief of police Dan Hughes officially cleared Kelly Thomas of any wrongdoing before the beating. Fullerton police had been called to the scene after an unidentified man was seen trying to break into cars. “There is no evidence, of which the Fullerton Police Department is now aware that Kelly Thomas actually tried to steal anything from any of the vehicles in the lot,” Hughes announced before the Fullerton City Council.

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