- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two police officers were charged Wednesday in the death of a mentally ill homeless man in Southern California who was beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun during his arrest, authorities said.

Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with one count each of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas after a violent confrontation on July 5 with officers, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a news conference.

Police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli was charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive force, the district attorney said.

Mr. Rackauckas said a review of the evidence showed Thomas was acting “in self-defense, in pain and in a state of panic.”

“His numerous pleas of ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I can’t breathe,’ ‘Help, Dad’ (were) all to no avail. Screams — loud screams — didn’t help,” the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor said police officers have a right to use reasonable force in the performance of a lawful duty but citizens have a right to self-defense, even against the police.

Lorie Fridell, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, said it is highly unusual for a police officer to be charged with murder.

“It is quite appropriate in such cases to hold officers to account,” Ms. Fridell said. “Often, however, prosecutors will give officers the benefit of the doubt.”

Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas‘ father, said he was pleased with the charges but still suffers every day as a result of his son’s death.

“That’s exactly what I hoped for,” Ron Thomas said of the charges.. “It makes me feel fantastic that this is happening. It’s the justice we need.”

Bill Hadden, lawyer representing Cpl. Cincinelli, didn’t immediately return a call for comment. A call to a home number for Officer Ramos rang unanswered.

Arraignment was scheduled for later Wednesday.

Six officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident, which occurred while police were investigating reported vehicle break-ins at a transit hub.

Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life support five days later.

Thomas suffered from schizophrenia and lived on the streets, even though he received support from family and friends.

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