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Officers acquitted of assault and battery in beating death

A pair of former California police officers have been acquitted in a criminal case related to the death of a homeless man with a psychiatric condition. The pair were accused of a variety of charges in connection with the alleged assault and battery, including second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. The verdict has incited some negative response from community members, who believe that the lack of a criminal conviction will now allow police officers to "do whatever they want" on California streets.

Authorities say that the July 2011 incident occurred when Fullerton police responded to a call that reported a disheveled-looking man was attempting to open car doors near a public transit center. A total of six officers were dispatched in the case. The mentally ill victim reportedly complied with officers' directions at first, but then he became belligerent and ultimately quite violent. A 33-minute surveillance video chronicled what happened next; police are seen threatening the man with violence, and he is then the subject of a serious beating for about 10 minutes. Public ire was raised by several specific moments in the tape, when the victim is heard crying out for his family members and pleading for his personal safety. The victim died five days after the incident, never regaining consciousness after the altercation.

Defense attorneys in the case say that the officers were simply acting based on the training they received for potentially dangerous situations. In many cases, cops are the ones left dead after such an encounter; officers need to be able to protect themselves during altercations with suspects. Now, additional consideration is being given to those training regimens, which advocates say should include information about handling suspects with serious mental illness. The man in this case was schizophrenic.

The defendants in this situation were simply complying with the professional training they received; they did not deserve to spend time in custody for following the rules. A qualified criminal defense attorney can help such defendants learn more about their criminal charges, allowing them to make the best decisions about pleas and other aspects of their assault charges cases.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Kelly Thomas case: why police were acquitted in killing of homeless man" Elizabeth Barber, Jan. 14, 2014

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results