Defense attorneys for Fullerton police officers charged in the July 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas are asking for more time to comb through a new, nearly 14-minute long audio recording captured on a digital device worn by Officer Manuel Ramos before he is seen with Thomas in surveillance video. Vikki Vargas reports from the Santa Ana Courthouse in Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on June 26, 2012.
Arraignment was continued Tuesday for two Fullerton police officers charged in the beating death of a homeless man last year after the defendants' attorneys asked for more time to review audio recordings from the night of the encounter.
Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli were ordered in May to stand trial for the death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas. Thomas died five days after he encountered Ramos, Cicinelli and four other Fullerton officers at a transportation center.
The officers were scheduled to be arraigned after the May preliminary hearing, but that was continued earlier this month after defense attorneys said they needed more time to prepare a motion to dismiss.
The arraignment was again continued Tuesday at the request of defense attorneys to July 13.
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The attorneys said they recently learned of the discovery of additional minutes of digital audio recordings from the night Thomas encountered the officers. The audio is from Digital Audio Recording devices (DARs) worn by the officers.
Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, called the DAR recordings a "game-changer."
"What you see on the videotape is not the whole story," he said at the courthouse.
The newly revealed recording inludes nearly 14 minutes before he encounters Thomas. Then the two begin to verbally spar.
Barnett contends that a conversation Ramos has with another homeless man shows he's not intolerant of the homeless. Ramos calls the other man "Dave," saying "Take it easy, man. See you, buddy."
Prosecutor Jim Tanizaki said the conversation was "not a game-changer at all."
"It really just explains why Ramos was contacting Kelly Thomas," said Tanizaki, senior assistant Orange County District Attorney.
Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli faces an involuntary manslaughter charge and a charge of use of excessive force.
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented an audio-video recording that depicts the July 5 encounter involving the officers and Thomas. The surveillance camera video, synched with audio from recording devices worn by the officers, shows Ramos talking with Thomas for about 15 minutes before the officer puts on latex gloves.
Ramos' exchange with Thomas can be heard on the audio recording:
Ramos: "Now you see my fists?"
Thomas: "Yeah, what about ‘em?"
Ramos: "They’re getting ready to 'f' you up."
Thomas: "Start punching dude."
The video shows Ramos and another officer striking Thomas, who was homeless and suffered from mental illness, with their batons. More officers arrive including Cicinelli, who uses his stun gun.
Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life if convicted of second-degree murder but only four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
The 38-year-old Ramos, a 10-year Fullerton police veteran, is free on $1 million bail, one of the highest ever posted in Orange County. Cicinelli, 42, is free on $25,000 bail. Both are on unpaid administrative leave.
Both pleaded not guilty.
The four other officers involved in the beating were not charged.