Kelly Thomas: Defense demands proof police killed homeless man
An attorney representing two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man challenged a trauma surgeon Tuesday to review the graphic video of Kelly Thomas’ beating and pinpoint the moment when a police officer might have delivered a fatal blow.
Defense attorneys for the Fullerton officers are challenging whether it was the officers or the medics who later treated Thomas who caused his death last July after the violent encounter outside a bus depot.
"Is there a particular act that actually had the effect?" asked John Barnett, the attorney for Manuel Ramos, one of the two officers charged in the case.
UCI surgeon Michael Lekawa, however, said the damage was probably cumulative and that as more physical effort was used to subdue Thomas, who on the video is heard complaining of having difficulty breathing, it would lead to inadequate oxygen levels in the blood.
"It happened over time," said the head of trauma surgery at UCI.
Dist. Atty Tony Rackauckas, who is handling the prosecution’s case, objected to the repeated questions. "He says he cannot say moment by moment," the D.A. said.
Barnett continued showing snippets of the graphic video and, by the 19-minute mark in the 32-minute tape, the surgeon said that the moment might have been when the video showed an officer on Thomas' torso.
Lekawa said he believe "200 pounds of weight is enough" to cause chest compression and a deadly lack of oxygen.
The surgeon testified "he appears to be struggling to breathe" at the 20-minute mark in the video. At that moment, Thomas is shocked with a Taser and struck several times with the butt of the Taser by Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
Lekawa said he had not.
Ramos and Cicinelli are charged in Kelly’s death -– Ramos with second-degree murder and Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Tuesday’s testimony comes a day after a dramatic video of Thomas’ encounter with police was shown in court.
The grainy black-and-white video of Thomas’ violent tangle with police is the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case that the officers escalated a standard police encounter with a homeless man into a fatal beating.
At one point, Thomas –- a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man who was a familiar face in the city’s downtown -– screams out: “Dad, they are killing me.”
The video and the sound of fists and a baton connecting with Thomas was graphic enough that several spectators in the courtroom left, and the judge paused the video at one point as some in the audience began to groan. He cautioned that those who couldn’t watch the video should leave.
The case has rocked the north Orange County city, where scores of people have protested, staged memorials and held a recent birthday celebration for Thomas.