Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli charged in the beating death of transient Kelly Thomas have been ordered to stand trial following a three-day preliminary hearing. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 9, 2012.
A judge Wednesday ordered Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli to stand trial on all charges in the death of Kelly Thomas, who died five days after he encountered the officers at a Fullerton Transportation Center in July.
Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Thomas. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
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.
"I can't say that I'm happy," Kelly Thomas' father Ron said after the order was issued. "These past few days have been traumatic for me again. I've said many times we're in a war, and this is just another battle that fortunately for right now we have won."
Judge Walter Schwarm heard from witnesses and viewed surveilance video of the beating during a preliminary hearing that started Monday. During the transportation center surveillance video, Thomas -- a homeless man who suffered from mental illness -- can be heard calling for his father and telling officers that he cannot breathe.
Thomas died five days later after he was removed from life support.
UC-Irvine trauma surgeon Dr. Michael Lekawa testified Tuesday that Thomas suffered from hypoxia -- the body as a whole or a region of the body wasn't getting enough oxygen.
But defense attorneys have questioned witnesses during the preliminary hearing about whether the actions of responding paramedics might have contributed to Thomas' death.
At a pre-trial hearing in December, Ramos' attorney said the officer used "only that force that was necessary" to restrain "a non-compliant suspect."
The 38-year-old Ramos is a 10-year Fullerton police veteran. Cicinelli, 42, and Ramos are on unpaid administrative leave. Four other officers who responded to the bus depot were not charged.
It was Ramos who started the chain of events that led to Thomas' death, according to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. He arrived at the transportation center after a report of car break-ins. Officer Joe Wolfe arrived a short time later.
The officers said they found mail addressed to someone else in Thomas' backpack.
In the surveillance video, Ramos can be heard telling Thomas, "Now you see my firsts? They're getting ready to f--- you up."
"There's just no way in the world that's lawful conduct," Rackauckas said. "Is that implied malice? Of course it is.''
When Thomas got up to run, Wolfe struck him with the baton, according to Rackauckas. Cicinelli arrived and began using his stun gun on Thomas, the DA said.
"He does not give him time to comply. He just zaps him again," Rackauckas said. "Then he jumps on him and smashes his face with the Taser. Those aren't my words, those are his words."
But Ramos defense attorney John Barnett argued that, under the prosecution's logic, "a suspect can flee with impunity." He also argued that Thomas couldn't have taken the threat seriously because he said, "Start punching, dude.''
As for Cicinelli, his attorney argued that he had no way of knowing what had happened before he arrived. All Cicinelli saw when he arrived were his fellow officers involved in a struggle with a "combative'' suspect, attorney Michael Schwartz said.
"We don't use 20/20 hindsight to judge those officers,'' Schwartz said. "We can't have suspects dictate what an officer can do under the law.''
Dr. Aruna Singhania, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Thomas' body, returned to testify Wednesday. Thomas died due to bleeding from his broken nose and other facial injuries, she testified Tuesday.
The blood filled his lungs and oxygen deprivation left his brain dead, Singhania said.