A year and three months after the beating and death of Kelly Thomas, a third former police officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force.
Former Fullerton officer Joe Wolfe was arraigned Thursday by the Orange County District Attorney’s office and faces up to four years in prison if convicted, according to a statement from the District Attorney’s office.
Wolfe’s attorneys, Vicki Podberesky and Michael Nasatir, told Orange County Register reporters “whether this change (by the prosecution) is the result of well-meaning but misguided external pressure upon the District Attorney’s Office or a political effort to quell perceived public unrest,” and they are confident Wolfe will be exonerated.
A video of the Thomas beating shows Wolfe initiating the first hit to the back of Thomas’ leg with a baton. The 34-minute video shows former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Wolfe talking with Thomas. Wolfe began searching through Thomas’ backpack and found what he said in the video was stolen mail.
After Ramos and Wolfe began beating Thomas, other officers, including former police officer Jay Cicinelli, arrived on the scene. Cicinelli appeared to begin tasering Thomas.
Ramos was charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in September 2011 and faces a maximum of 15 years to life in prison. Cicinelli was also charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force and faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.
“Since (the first two former officers were indicted), the OCDA has actively continued its investigation and legal review and decided to seek an indicted against Wolfe following extensive legal and factual analysis and development of evidence,” said the statement.
The Orange County Grand Jury heard 10 witness testimonies and examined 113 exhibits of evidence over a three day period. An indictment for Wolfe was returned Sept. 24.
The altercation took place outside of the Fullerton Transportation Center, which is located about three miles from Cal State Fullerton.
Although there appeared to be three additional officers involved in the July 2011 altercation, no charges have been filed against Officer Kenton Hampton, Sgt. Kevin Craig and Cpl. James Blatney and criminal charges have not been filed against them due to lack of evidence.