(FULLERTON, Calif.) — Two Fullerton, Calif., police officers will be tried in the death of a mentally ill homeless man whose apparent beating by police was captured on video, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for the officers have questioned whether medical treatment, not the actual beating, could have resulted in Thomas’ death.
“The grainy but gripping video of a homeless man being beaten to death was the key evidence in the prosecution’s successful effort to convince the court to force a police officer to stand trial for murder in the second degree,” said Royal Oakes, an ABC News legal analyst.
“The video of the beating conjured up memories of the Rodney King police beating of two decades ago,” Oakes said. “The videotaped evidence will no doubt be the centerpiece of the D.A.’s case in the upcoming murder trial, where one officer could be facing 15 years to life behind bars.”
The July 5, 2011, surveillance video, taken from a publicly mounted camera, coupled with an audio recording device worn by an officer, stunned a packed courtroom of Thomas’ supporters when it was shown for the first time Monday.
“I can’t breathe man,” and, “sorry,” Thomas could be heard telling officers as he allegedly endured punches to his left ribs and blows to his face from an officer’s knee.
Thomas, who is reportedly schizophrenic, repeatedly cried out for his father.
He was also Tasered three times with the stungun applied directly to his skin for five-second periods. He was hit a fourth time with two darts connected to the gun by wires, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office. The entire time he could be heard screaming in agony.
The apparent beating lasted nine minutes and 40 seconds and ended with Thomas’ limp body in handcuffs.
Thomas was transported to St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., for intubation to help him breathe. He never regained consciousness.
Five days later, Thomas died. The coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide.
“You have 1,500 pounds of trained cop on my one little son, but they have to bring this out like they were just so overpowered by this brute to make themselves look innocent and that they’re the victims,” Ron Thomas, the victim’s father, said outside of court Monday.
The officers had responded to the Fullerton Transportation Center after receiving a call that a homeless man was seen looking into car windows and pulling on door handles.
Six officers arrived at the scene for backup, but the district attorney determined that there was only enough evidence to charge Ramos and Cicinelli in Thomas’ death.
The video began with Ramos approaching Thomas and asking him to sit with his legs and hands in front of him. Thomas had trouble complying with the order and appeared to have cognitive difficulties, according to the D.A.’s office.
Fed up, Ramos made fists and asked Thomas if he saw them. Thomas replied that he did.
“They’re getting ready to f— you up,” Ramos told him.
When a shirtless Thomas, who had earlier forgotten his name and said he didn’t speak English, stood up, Ramos and his partner were shown swinging at him with their batons.
Thomas took off and was tackled, setting off the nearly 10-minute beating that allegedly led to his death.
Ramos is a 10-year veteran of the Fullerton Police, while Cicinelli has been an officer in Fullerton for 12 years.
The video ended with paramedics carrying Thomas’ body to an ambulance, revealing a large blood stain on the spot where the altercation took place.
Thomas had no illicit drugs or alcohol in him at the time of the incident, according to the toxicology report.
If convicted, Cicinelli could face a maximum sentence of four years in prison and Ramos could be sentenced to life in prison.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire