The mother of Kelly Thomas–the homeless man savagely killed by Fullerton police in July–is suing the lawman who is prosecuting two cops in the case.
This week, Cathy Thomas filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in hopes of forcing District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to reverse an October decision that blocked her access to records in the sensational case that's won international attention.
Brian N. Gurwitz, Thomas' private attorney and a onetime high-ranking adviser to Rackauckas, wrote in the five-page lawsuit that the DA's decision violated California's Public Records Act [CPRA] and his client's rights as a crime victim.
“While conceding that [Mrs. Thomas] falls within the class of
individuals normally entitled to these documents, the district attorney
has denied her CPRA request for various, conclusory reasons,” Gurwitz
wrote in the complaint. “The [DA's] denial letter shows a startling lack
of respect for his CPRA duties . . .”
But in an Oct. 14 letter, Senior Deputy District Attorney Rebecca L. Olivieri
told Gurwitz that release of the records to Thomas “would clearly
endanger the successful completion of the investigation and the case
against the defendants.” The concern? “Permitting the review of the
materials in the investigative file at this point could result in the
potential interference with witnesses due to influence, or even
intimidation,” she wrote.
Olivieri, acting on behalf of
Rackauckas, also rejected Gurwitz's contention that a court protective
order preventing public dissemination of the records would maintain the
integrity of the prosecution's case.
“While there may be a shared
interest in the prosecution of these defendants, our office has a
separate and compelling interest in the criminal prosecution and
bringing the perpetrators to justice,” Olivieri wrote.
But Gurwitz believes that the DA's office has overreacted.
if the district attorney's purported justifications for CPRA exemption
had merit as to certain records, it is inconceivable that this rationale
would apply to every record in his possession, and that other remedies
(e.g., redaction and/or protective orders) would not protect the
interests he advances,” wrote Gurwitz, who was involved in several
high-profile prosecution cases during his stint working for Rackauckas.
“The district attorney made no good faith effort to comply with the
He added that Olivieri's response “strains credulity,” in
part because the DA has already released its files to high-priced
defense lawyers representing officers Manuel Anthony Ramos and Jay Patrick Cicinelli.
“We completely sympathize that she would want answers in this case and we intend to give her all the information at the proper time,” said Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff. “Our priority now is that we get justice in this case and hold Kelly Thomas' killers accountable.”
Schroeder also told the Weekly that prosecutors fear that if they release records under the CPRA to one person, even Mrs. Thomas, then they will have to give the documents to any member of the public who requests them.
“That's nonsense,” replied Gurwitz. “The government code [CPRA] treats victims differently than the general public.”
Cathy Thomas and Ron Thomas, the divorced parents of the victim, have hired separate attorneys to sue the Fullerton Police Department for killing their son without cause.
After a lengthy investigation, Rackauckas–who in recent years has increasing pursued alleged dirty cops and deputies–charged Ramos with second-degree murder and Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter in the case.
Both cops claim they are innocent and await a future trial.
The Thomas lawsuit was assigned to Superior Court Judge Linda Marks.
–R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.