FULLERTON (CBSLA.com) — Fullerton’s City Council has scheduled a last-minute closed-door meeting with its lawyers Monday morning, the same time that a court trial is supposed to begin in a lawsuit filed over the 2011 death of transient Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police.
The closed-door session and opening statements are both expected around 9 a.m.
The lawsuit asserts Thomas was killed by police who were poorly trained on how to confront a mentally ill person. The criminal trial against then-Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli ended with no convictions and prosecutors later dropped charges against then-Officer Joe Wolfe.
Thomas was declared brain-dead the night of the struggle — July 5, 2011 — and was taken off life-support machines five days later.
In “mini opening statements” made by attorneys before prospective jurors on Nov. 9, it appears a 33-minute-long video of the incident will be the main evidence.
The key dispute will be who was at fault for Thomas’ death, the attorneys said.
One attorney representing Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, predicted the evidence will show the officers violated their own training and department’s rules and suffocated the 37-year-old Thomas outside the Fullerton Transportation Center.
The attorneys representing the defendants say Thomas had a heart attack due to a preexisting condition and that the officers acted properly and were not at fault in his death.
Thomas’ attorney, Garo Mardirossian, cited OC coroner reports concluding Thomas died of “positional asphyxiation and blunt force trauma to the head.”
A former Ventura County medical examiner came to the same conclusion and is expected to testify, Mardirossian added.
Thomas was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 21 years old and decided “he was better off living outdoors,” Mardirossian said.
As Thomas pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and cried out for help from his father, six officers used a Taser on him and beat on him as they tried to
hobble him with handcuffs, Mardirossian said.
Attorney Dana Fox, who represents Sgt. Kevin Craig and Officer Jim Blatney, said, “This is a tragic case, no doubt about it, but there are many
sides to this story.”
Fox said Ramos had encountered Thomas several times before, but that the trouble began when Thomas refused to identify himself. Ramos remembered Thomas, but did not recall his name, Fox said.
“The evidence is going to show he had a bad, preexisting heart” condition, Fox said.
If jurors find the defendants liable then they will consider how much money to award the plaintiff in punitive damages, Fox said.
Ron Thomas filed the lawsuit on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death, alleging assault and battery, negligence, wrongful death and civil rights violations.
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