Kelly Thomas: D.A. to play video of fatal beating at officers' hearing
The Orange County district attorney plans to present security video Monday at a hearing that allegedly shows the events that led to the killing of homeless man Kelly Thomas by two Fullerton police officers.
The video captured at the Fullerton bus depot July 5, 2011, is the latest evidence in a criminal case against the two on-duty officers, who face a preliminary hearing Monday on murder and manslaughter charges.
The incident was captured on a security camera and the sound by an officer’s digital recorder.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 37, a 10-year veteran, was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of Thomas, 37, at the bus depot. If convicted, Ramos could face a life prison term.
A second officer, Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force; Cicinelli faces a maximum prison term of four years.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas is expect to lay out how routine questioning by police devolved into a "beating at the hands of an angry police officer" with other officers eventually joining in.
"See my fists?" Ramos allegedly asked Thomas.
"Yeah," Thomas replied. "What about them?"
"They are getting ready to ... you up," Ramos allegedly said.
"Start punching, dude," Thomas replied.
In the next nine minutes and 40 seconds, Thomas was tackled, hit with a baton, pinned to the ground, punched repeatedly in the ribs, kneed in the head, Tasered four times and then struck in the face with the Taser device eight times, Rackauckas said.
Any response from Thomas was "in self-defense, in pain and in panic," Rackauckas said when the charges were announced.
According to an 11-week investigation, Thomas initially struggled, his screams echoing across the parking lot: "I can't breathe!" "I'm sorry, dude!" "OK, OK!" "Please!" "Dad, help me."
But, Rackauckas said, the beating continued even after Thomas stopped struggling and screaming and blood began pooling around his body.
Hospital records showed that Thomas suffered brain injuries, a shattered nose, a smashed cheekbone, broken ribs and internal bleeding. The cause of death, Rackauckas said, was "mechanical compression of the thorax," basically being crushed and unable to breath.
There were no traces of drugs or alcohol in Thomas' body. He died five days after he was taken off life support.
Much of the evidence came from a recording device attached to Ramos' uniform, which all Fullerton officers wear. The investigation also included 151 witness interviews, seven surveillance videos and two videos recorded by witnesses on their cellphones.
The turning point for Cicinelli, the district attorney told reporters in announcing the charges, was when the officer — after using his Taser four times on Thomas, once near Thomas' heart — began beating Thomas in the face with the device itself.
Rackauckas called that behavior "gratuitous and unnecessary," and noted the investigation showed that Thomas offered no response to those blows, indicating he was "down and seriously injured."
Both Ramos and Cicinelli have pleaded not guilty and are free on bail while on leave from the Fullerton Police Department. Ramos' attorney, John D. Barnett, said the officer was doing his job under difficult conditions with a noncompliant suspect with a history of violence.
Barnett, said Thomas' criminal record, which includes a 1995 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon when he hit his grandfather with a fire poker, reveals he had a violent side.
Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, also disputed points in the district attorney's account, including the number of times his client allegedly hit Thomas with the front end of his Taser and the threatening taunt Ramos allegedly used when he confronted Thomas.
Schwartz said his client, a former LAPD officer, struck Thomas only when the homeless man grabbed the hand holding the Taser at least twice.
— Richard Winton