THE LATEST: Dr. Michael Lekawa, a trauma surgeon at UCI Medical Center in Orange, spent most of the morning on the witness stand in the preliminary hearing into the death of transient Kelly Thomas.
John Barnett, the attorney for Fullerton police Officer Manuel Ramos, questioned Lekawa about the prosecution’s theory that Thomas was suffocated by the weight of the officers on him. Barnett is preparing to show the surveillance video again and ask Lekawa where and when that so-called fatal pressure was applied.
Next, a forensic expert is scheduled to testify. There’s a good chance that autopsy photos will be shown today.
Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, has said in an earlier interview that he will leave the courtroom when that happens.
The Register will update this story frequently throughout the day.
SANTA ANA – Spectators gasped, screamed and cried in an Orange County courtroom Monday afternoon as they watched a graphic surveillance video of an encounter between six Fullerton policemen and a homeless man with schizophrenia.
When the outbursts continued among dozens of supporters of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old transient who died five days after the encounter July 5, 2011, Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm halted the playing of the videotape to warn the audience.
He noted that emotions were running high but said he was being distracted. He told the crowd to maintain proper decorum or leave the courtroom. Four people rushed out in tears, and the playing of the videotaping resumed.
The tape was prosecution exhibit No. 4 in the preliminary hearing for two Fullerton policemen – officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli – charged with felonies that could land them in prison if convicted in their roles in the death of Thomas.
Ramos, 38, a 10-year veteran of the force, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter – the first on-duty police officer in Orange County history to be charged with murder. Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force under color of authority.
The videotape showed an escalating situation that abruptly became hostile when officer Manuel Ramos snapped on latex gloves and said, “Now, you see my fists? … They’re getting ready to f— you up … If you don’t start f—— listening.”
Within moments, Ramos and another officer take Thomas to the ground with help from a baton, according to the video, and pounce on him as he begins screaming “I’m sorry dude … I’m sorry. … I can’t breathe dude … I can’t breathe, sir! Please, help!”
Cicinelli arrived at the scene a few minutes later in response to a call that an officer needs help and quickly joined the fray, the videotape showed. He used a Taser to shock the man into submission and then used the plastic gun as a weapon as he hit Thomas in the face, the video shows.
Members of the audience, including Thomas’ mother and father, at first watched the video of the dialogue between homeless man and the officers in attentive silence.
But when the surveillance video showed the takedown and the ensuing struggle, which was partially obscured by a tree, several of Thomas’ supporters screamed loudly. Some wept. Others hung their heads and averted their eyes from the screen.
Schwarm stopped the playing one time to warn the spectators. Prosecutors then played the remainder of the 35-minute videotape to its conclusion.
The last scenes showed a pool of Thomas’ blood on the street after he was rushed to a hospital. He died without regaining consciousness five days later when life support was removed.
Ramos and Cicinelli have pleaded not guilty. John Barnett, Ramos’ attorney, said in the past that his client issued a lawful order as a policeman and then used only lawful force to subdue Kelly Thomas.
“There is insufficient evidence to prove the charges against my client,” Barnett says. “There is no theory of facts upon which a murder charge be sustained.
Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life if convicted of second-degree murder. A jury could also find him guilty of the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Cicinelli faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted.