Scott Shackford, Reason
Critics of police misbehavior may be pleased to hear that the trial of the Fullerton, Calif., police officers accused of beating homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas to death has not been ignored by the Southern California media. The Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, OC Weekly and several local news stations have been covering the case since it opened last week. Two former officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, are on trial for killing him. A third faces separate charges.
Damning testimony came Monday when a retired FBI agent was called by prosecutors to the stand to analyze the use of force by officers and declared it excessive. Here’s how the OC Weekly described it:
During [Monday]’s testimony in the Kelly Thomas murder trial, a retired FBI supervising special agent and tactical police training expert told jurors that the 37-year-old homeless man had a right to use force to defend himself against two Fullerton police officers who’d essentially converted themselves into heavily armed thugs with badges.
John Wilson, who spent 60 hours studying the gruesome, July 2011, police attack on an unarmed Thomas, said that officer Manuel Ramos began the minor encounter unnecessarily by immediately taking out his baton, swinging it in both hands and poking it at the victim, who hadn’t been physically threatening.
But, according to Wilson, the most unprofessional moment prior to the killing occurred when Ramos mocked the schizophrenia-addled Thomas as stupid, dramatically put on gloves as he towered over him and said, “Now, you see my fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up.”
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas played related portions of a surveillance tape of the brutality and, over Ramos defense lawyer John Barnett’s incessant objections, asked Wilson if he considered the cop conduct appropriate under the circumstances.
“Clearly, no,” replied the 26-year FBI veteran, who at one point served on the U.S. Attorney General’s protection detail in Washington, D.C. “I have problems with everything that happened after Ramos put the gloves on.”
On cross, defense for the two officers on trial tried to paint Wilson as a guy who didn’t know what it was like to walk a beat or what the work of a street cop was actually like, according to the OC Weekly.
Yesterday, the trauma surgeon who treated Thomas when he was brought in following the beating testified. He said Thomas’ death was ultimately caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain, a result of his inability to breathe properly during the beating. From the Los Angeles Times:
When he arrived, Thomas was breathing through the tube, which was attached to an air bag that was squeezed by hand, [Dr. Michael] Lekawa said. His blood pressure was extremely low and his PH score indicated that his body was producing so much acid that, the doctor said, he has never seen a patient with a similar PH score live.
“I’ve never seen a survivor, ever, in my 18 years,” he said.
The cause of Thomas’ death, Lekawa said, was inadequate oxygen to his brain. During the confrontation with police, “various persons were on [Thomas] and holding him down … preventing him from breathing,” Lekawa said.
“He was doing everything he could to breathe but becoming less and less mentally with it to do what he could to breathe,” he said.
Ultimately, Thomas stopped breathing, which caused his heart to stop, leading to “irreversible brain damage,” he said.
Below, a vivid reminder from ReasonTV of the brutality that lead to this case:
Scott Shackford is an associate editor at Reason 24/7.
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