Wrongful Death Lawsuit Sandwiched between Criminal Prosecutions for Former Fullerton Police Officer
Former Fullerton police officer Manual Ramos was acquitted of a murder charge stemming from the 2011 beating death of Kelley Thomas. Thomas’ father has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Orange County against the officers involved, and Ramos is scheduled to deliver a deposition in the case on April 15. Ramos’ fate is still up in the air, however, as federal prosecutors are still deliberating on whether to file federal criminal charges against Ramos because of Thomas’ death. In anticipation of an upcoming federal charge, Ramos is seeking immunity from federal prosecution for any statements he may make in his deposition that might be used against him in criminal court.
A deposition is often required of witnesses and interested parties during the pre-trial discovery phase of a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury case or an action for wrongful death. The discovery phase is so named because each party is given certain tools to “discover” evidence about the case from the other party. In a deposition, the person being deposed is asked a series of questions and must answer truthfully under oath. The deposition does not take place in court, but it is part of the overall legal proceeding. The person can be required to appear by a court-issued subpoena, and a record of the deposition testimony is made by a court reporter.
While Ramos could be required to give deposition testimony in a civil suit, he is at the same time protected by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says that he does not have to give any testimony in a criminal proceeding against him if he chooses not to. These two conflicting rules put Ramos in a difficult position, because he is concerned that statements he makes in a deposition for the civil wrongful death lawsuit could later be used against him in a federal criminal prosecution.
If Ramos is not granted immunity for his statements in the civil deposition, he likely will ask the judge for a court order which limits the scope of the questioning and allows him to answer questions without making any incriminating statements.