Kelly Thomas case: Two Fullerton cops ordered to stand trial
An Orange County Superior Court judge today ordered two Fullerton police officers to stand trial in the 2011 death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force.
Although their defense attorneys suggested emergency medical workers -- not the police officers -- caused Thomas' death by failing to provide prompt care, Judge Walter Schwarm determined after a three-day preliminary hearing that there is enough probable cause for the case to go to trial.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas presented the case himself, playing a dramatic, never-before-seen video that showed a shirtless Thomas being pummeled and held down by Fullerton police officers. As the video played in court, many in the audience gasped and groaned. Some stood up and walked out. (It also may be disturbing to some readers.)
The 37-year-old Thomas can be heard screaming, "Dad, they are killing me." He repeatedly shouts, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
The case has rocked the north Orange County city, where scores of people have protested and staged memorials. And the graphic video became an instant touchstone for those who advocate for a more robust and effective mental health system. Advocates for the mentally ill said they viewed the recording, the centerpiece of the prosecution's case against the two officers accused in Thomas' death, as something akin to their Rodney King video.
A coroner's pathologist testified Thomas ultimately died of brain death, acute bronchial pneumonia and blunt force facial trauma. Dr. Aruna Singhania, who told the court she had performed 11,000 autopsies, said Thomas had difficulty breathing because of chest compression as the struggle wore on and was worsened by facial and nasal bleeding. Officers are seen in the video atop Thomas during the confrontation.
In closing statements Wednesday, Rackauckas told the judge officers "crushed the life out" of Thomas and should be ordered to stand trial.
"It is a very bad day in Orange County when we have to charge two police officers with these terrible crimes," he said.
During the hearing, defense attorneys sought to show the cause of death might have been the treatment Thomas got at the hospital as doctors struggled to insert a tube and clear an airway.
John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, also said Thomas was uncooperative and would not identify himself.
"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.
The attorney also said the prosecution twisted Ramos' language and Thomas never viewed the officer's words as a threat. Ramos was just using street language, Barnett said, and "Mr. Rackaukas has turned that into murder."
-- Richard Winton in Orange County Superior Court