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.
"Even 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 CPRA.
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.
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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