Evidence in homeless man's death to air in court

AP News
Posted: May 07, 2012 3:54 AM
Evidence in homeless man's death to air in court

A judge is expected to weigh whether there's enough evidence to proceed with a trial for two California police officers charged with the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man, a case that has drawn protest from some Santa Ana residents.

Prosecutors are expected to lay out their case against Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli at a preliminary hearing Monday in Superior Court in Santa Ana.

Prosecutors say the officers are responsible for the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas during an investigation of reported car burglaries at a Fullerton transit hub in July.

Ramos has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

The incident was captured on video by a bystander's cell-phone and provoked an outcry by residents.

John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said he expected prosecutors would show video footage of the incident at the hearing but did not believe it would constitute sufficient evidence to try the officers on homicide charges.

"The conduct was appropriate given the circumstances that no excessive force was used and that officer Ramos was doing not only what he is permitted to do, but what he is required to do," Barnett said.

A message left for Cicinelli's attorney Michael Schwartz was not returned.

Prosecutors say the beating began after two officers responded to reports that a homeless person was looking in cars and rattling door handles.

The officers stopped Thomas and searched his backpack and asked him to sit on the curb. But the shirtless man, who suffered from schizophrenia, had trouble complying, prosecutors said, at which point Ramos put on a pair of latex gloves, leaned down and threatened him with his fists.

At that moment, what began as a fairly routine police investigation turned into a beating, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say Ramos, a 10-year veteran, punched Thomas in the ribs, tackled him and lay on him to pin him down. They say Cicinelli, a 12-year-veteran of the force who arrived on the scene later, used a Taser four times on Thomas as he screamed in pain and hit him in the face eight times with the Taser.

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Thomas lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. He was taken off life support and died 5 days later.

The coroner concluded that Thomas died from mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for him to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen. Other face and head injuries contributed to his death, prosecutors said.

A preliminary hearing is held to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed to trial.

Six Fullerton police officers responded to the incident. All were placed on paid administrative leave and are facing an internal investigation but only Ramos and Cicinelli were criminally charged.

In this case, the hearing is expected to last between one and two days, said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County District Attorney's office. She declined to state what evidence prosecutors would introduce at the hearing.