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Powerful evidence echoes in court case on Kelly Thomas death

Ron Thomas, the father of victim, Kelly Thomas, stands next to a memorial for his son on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011
Ron Thomas, the father of victim, Kelly Thomas, stands next to a memorial for his son on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

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Yesterday, the courtroom trying the case of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who was beaten by Fullerton police and later died in the hospital, was rattled by footage of the incident.

The judge had to stop the video to allow for those affected by the images to leave the room. For those who stuck around, they saw a man get relentlessly beaten with fists, batons and the butt of a stun gun. Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are charged with second-degree murder/involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter/excessive force, respectively.

The video showed Thomas being detained by Ramos and another officer, Joseph Wolfe. Thomas was being uncooperative, which caused Ramos to get angry. After a physical threat from Ramos, the beating began. Thomas apologized repeatedly while getting hit, and told the officers he couldn’t breathe. They told him to relax, and waited for backup, in the form of Cicinelli to arrive. Then, Cicinelli shot his taser stun gun at Thomas, who was writhing in pain. Finally, Cicinelli appears to have used the butt of this gun to hit Thomas in the forehead, leaving him lying in a pool of blood.

Thomas was taken to the hospital, where he was shown to suffer brain injuries, several broken bones in the face and elsewhere, and internal bleeding. But the cause of death was not blood loss or injury, it was “mechanical compression of the thorax.” In laymen’s terms, his windpipe was crushed and he couldn’t breathe. Attorneys for the implicated officers are attempting to show that it wasn’t the beating that led to Thomas’s death, but an improper medical response.

How much weight does that argument hold? How graphic was the video shown in court yesterday? Would there have been any way to save Thomas after what he went though? How can situations such as this be prevented in the future?


Norberto Santana, Editor-in-Chief of the Voice of OC, a non-profit investigative news agency that covers Orange County government and politics

Ed Joyce, KPCC Reporter