D.A.: Police 'crushed the life out' of Kelly Thomas
Orange County's top prosecutor told a Superior Court judge Wednesday that two Fullerton police officers "crushed the life out" of Kelly Thomas and should be ordered to stand trial for the death of the homeless man.
"It is a very bad day in Orange County when we have to charge two police officers with these terrible crimes," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackaukas said during the third and final day of a preliminary hear to determine whether the police officers should stand trial -- one for second-degree murder, the other for involuntary manslaughter.
The beating death of Thomas has rocked the north Orange County city since the violent encounter last July outside a bus depot, and a video of the incident has served as the centerpiece on the prosecution's case against the officers.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the case, while Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, is facing involuntary manslaughter and excessive force charges. Ramos faces a term of life in prison; Cicinelli faces four years in prison. Both have pleaded not guilty .
Rackaukas said Ramos "turned a routine encounter into a brutal beating death" while Cicinelli "assisted in the killing of Kelly Thomas" by "smashing his face" with the butt of a Taser stun gun and applying his own weight on Thomas' torso.
A coroner's pathologist said Thomas died of chest compression and blood from his facial wounds.
"Kelly Thomas was a bit of a jerk to the officer but Officer Ramos was a bit cavalier," Rackaukas said.
The prosecutor said the officer was twirling his baton and then "put on a show" when he put on a pair of latex gloves, signaling he was "not going to be nice anymore." The officer said "see my fists ... these fists are going to f... you up," according to the video of the encounter.
The prosecutor said there can be no other interpretation "that a beating is coming imminently" and that "this is going to be a bad, brutal beating."
"Then he jumped on him, smashing his face. Those aren't my words, those are his," Rackaukas said. "That is excessive force there is no reason for that."
He added: "You are seeing blood coming off the face of Kelly Thomas splashing up in the air," Rackaukas said.
John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said Thomas was uncooperative. "He won't identify who he is. They already know he is" suspected of breaking into cars, Barnett said.
"He can go home if he will tell them his name and explain why he has someone else's mail in his backpack," Barnett said.
Barnett said there is no evidence officers knew he was mentally ill.
The attorney also said the prosecution skipped over Ramos saying, "you don't f...... stop listening" that night, which Barnett said was meant only as a conditional threat. The lawyer said Thomas never saw it as a threat because his response was "start punching dude."
"The people's entire argument goes back to the threat," he said.
Barnett said Ramos was just using street language and "Mr. Rackaukas has turned that into murder," Barnett said.
-- Richard Winton