(Note strong language in ninth paragraph)
By Tori Richards
SANTA ANA, Calif (Reuters) - Two Fullerton, California policemen were charged on Wednesday in the death of a homeless, schizophrenic man who was beaten and shocked with a Taser by officers during a confrontation in July.
Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in a videotaped altercation that touched off protests in the Southern California city.
Corporal Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the July 5 incident, which left Thomas on life support at a hospital in Fullerton, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
He died five days later.
"The big shame about this case is that it didn't have to happen," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in announcing the charges against Ramos and Cicinelli at a news conference in Santa Ana. "It could have been avoided. It never should have happened."
Ramos and Cicinelli surrendered to Orange County District Attorney's Office investigators on Wednesday morning, he said, and had been booked into custody. They were scheduled for an arraignment on the charges later on Wednesday afternoon.
Ramos faces a maximum of 15 years to life if he is found guilty at trial. Cicinelli faces up to four years behind bars if he is convicted.
Rackauckas said Ramos was familiar with Thomas and knew that the shirtless drifter posed "no risk" when he began questioning him over reports of vandalized cars near a Fullerton bus depot.
According to Rackauckas, Ramos, apparently angry that Thomas could not follow commands to sit on the ground with his legs outstretched, held up his fists and told the homeless man: "Now you see my fists? They are getting ready to F--- you up."
"That declaration was the turning point, the defining moment," Rackauckas said.
He said the incident turned violent after Thomas rose to his feet and took a few steps away, his hands raised defensively, and Ramos swung his baton, knocked him to the ground and began punching him in the ribs.
Ramos was joined by five other Fullerton police officers, including Cicinelli, who kneed Thomas in the head, shocked him four times with a Taser and struck him in the face eight times with the device, Rackauckas said.
The confrontation, part of which was caught on videotape by a camera at the bus depot, triggered calls for the resignation of Fullerton Police Chief Michael Sellers and members of the city council.
Sellers has since been granted medical leave.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)