Kelly Thomas case: Jury will be our 'voice and conscience,' DA says

What started as a routine encounter between a homeless man and Fullerton police officers escalated so quickly that within 30 minutes man was sprawled in the streets in “a pool of his own blood, unconscious and dying,” Orange County’s district attorney told jurors on Monday.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, in the prosecution's opening remarks in the high-profile trial of two former police officers, told jurors that the decision they ultimately reach will “speak as the voice and conscience of the community.”

The trial of two Fullerton police officers accused in the fatal beating of Kelly Thomas got underway Monday.

Former Fullerton officer Manuel Ramos, 39, and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 41, are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who died after being beaten by police outside the city’s transportation center. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli faces involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force charges.

The centerpiece of the case is likely to be a 33-minute tape from the transportation depot synced with audio from the officers' recorders that captures images of the encounter that July night in 2011, including moments when Thomas screams out for his father — "Dad, they're killing me" — and, repeatedly, "I can't breathe."

Prosecutors will zoom in on the actions of the officers, such as a moment when Ramos pulled on a pair of white latex gloves and tells 37-year-old Thomas, "Now you see my fists? ... They're getting ready to f- you up."

But the officers' attorneys will challenge the notion that Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, was a passive, confused transient who helplessly weathered a beating from police until he crumpled to the ground, blood running from his head.

"The evidence is going to show that Kelly Thomas has a violent history," said John Barnett, Ramos' attorney. "And that the police officers were going to let him go, wanted to let him go, that night. All he had to do is identify himself and he wouldn't do that.... And he tried to escape, to get away, then he fought them when they were trying to restrain him."

Barnett and Cicinelli's attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, have indicated they will use Thomas' criminal history and a 1995 report of chronic drug use to paint a more disturbing picture of Thomas than the one that emerged in the months after his death.


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