SANTA ANA (CBS/AP) — Opening statements began Monday in the trial of two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man whose family says he was schizophrenic.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said Monday that Fullerton officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are responsible for the July 2011 death of Thomas.
Rackauckas told a jury comprised of eight women and five men that during the confrontation, Cicinelli “pummeled” Thomas with the butt of a stun gun and left him “lying in a pool of blood, unconscious and dying.”
A key piece of evidence for the prosecution is a video showing the confrontation. Thomas died after falling into a coma five days later.
Ramos has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Manuel Ramos’ defense attorney said his client used “tremendous restraint” in the 2011 confrontation, which unfolded after six officers responded to a call about a man jiggling door handles in a bus station parking lot.
“He’s not looking to hook him up, he’s not looking to beat him up, he’s looking to send him home,” John Barnett said.
Barnett portrayed Thomas as a drug user who was unpredictable and prone to violence.
“The evidence is going to be that Officer Ramos had the right and the duty to do what he did,” Barnett said. “The evidence is going to show that he didn’t kill Kelly Thomas and that every single thing that he did was appropriate given the circumstances.”
Defense attorneys plan to challenge the coroner’s theory that Thomas died as a result of chest compression and blunt force trauma after the officers beat him with a police baton, shocked him with a stun gun and used their weight to subdue him.
The court room was packed with many of Thomas’ relatives and supporters, including his father Ron.
“It’s been such a long, hard road,” Ron Thomas said. “It’s taken such a toll on a lot of us. And now we’re going to relive it all again, but you know, we’re here. This is the battle we’ve fought so hard to get to.”
KNX 1070’s Charles Feldman reports Ron Thomas has been on a crusade to change the way the homeless are treated in Fullerton, where he says there has been an improvement.
“They’ve gone through a lot of training, Fullerton officers have, all of them, even the non-sworn civilian employees have on how to work with the homeless and mentally ill,” Thomas said. “The city itself has established new guidelines on what to do.”
The case fueled months of protests that led to the resignation of the police chief and a recall election in Fullerton.
The trial is expected to last six weeks.
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