Lawyers close arguing over police officer accused of murder
SANTA ANA, Calif. – Attorneys painted dramatically different pictures Tuesday of a homeless man who died after a violent struggle with California police officers, with one side calling him a victim of police brutality and the other telling jurors he was an angry felon with a history of unprovoked outbursts that left him on the street.
Jurors were set to return Wednesday for a second day of closing arguments in the case against two former Fullerton police officers who are charged in the July 2011 death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, who died after a routine patrol call escalated into a confrontation that was caught on surveillance video.
Former Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, has pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive use of force.
A third officer will be tried separately; three others were not charged.
The case marks the first time in the history of conservative Orange County that a police officer has been charged with murder for actions taken while on duty. It is so high-profile that four-term District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is trying the case himself.
The 33-minute surveillance video that captured the struggle is at the heart of the monthlong trial. The video shows officers – at first two, and then six – kneeing, pummeling and repeatedly stunning Thomas with an electric gun as he cries out for his father nearly 30 times, apologizes and begs for air.
Thomas never regained consciousness and died five days later, on July 10, 2011, after doctors removed his life support.
His death led to the recall of three Fullerton City Council members and the departure of the police chief. Dozens of people have attended the trial each day wearing yellow ribbons and buttons bearing Thomas’ image. Thomas’ father has said his son had schizophrenia. Rackauckas repeatedly replayed clips from the black-and-white surveillance video Tuesday, saying it provided clear-cut evidence that the two officers were responsible for the death of Thomas.
Friends and family members of Thomas sobbed as the video played on a large screen. One woman dashed out of the courtroom, her hand over her mouth.
“As you watch, you realize that what you’re watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of the police,” Rackauckas said. “You’re watching a homicide.”