Never-before seen surveillance video was shown during the long-awaited trial in the beating case of Fullerton man Kelly Thomas. Warning: Graphic Content. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 7, 2012.
Surveillance camera video from the bus depot at which a 37-year-old man was confronted by Fullerton officers July 5 was part of a long-awaited preliminary hearing that began Monday for two officers charged in the man's beating death.
The surveillance video from the transportation center was played at Monday's hearing involving Officer Manuel Ramos and Corporal Jay Cicinelli -- accused in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.
Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli faces an involuntary manslaughter charge and a charge of use of excessive force.
Thomas' father, who already saw the video, was asked outside the courtroom Monday what people can expect.
"Get your tissues ready," Thomas said. "It's going to be brutal for you."
The audio-video recording depicts events at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5, 2011 from 8:46 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
In the surveillance video, Officer Manuel Ramos can be seen twirling his baton, asking Kelly Thomas what language he’s speaking.
“It seems like every day I talk to you,” Ramos can be heard saying. “Do you enjoy that?”
Thomas says he can’t remember his name, and then is questioned about what he has in his backpack.
Police say they found paperwork belonging to an attorney named Casey Hull in the backpack. The back and forth goes on for some 15 minutes until Officer Ramos puts on latex gloves and orders Thomas to put his feet out:
Thomas appears confused.
Ramos: "Now you see my fists?"
Thomas: "Yeah, what about ‘em?"
Ramos: "They’re getting ready to 'f' you up."
Thomas: "Start punching dude."
About 30 seconds later, Officer Joseph Wolfe arrives and as Kelly Thomas steps out of view, he is struck with their batons.
The altercation goes on for nearly five minutes. More officers arrive including Cicinelli, who uses his taser.
Thomas, who was homeless and suffered from mental illness, died five days after the encounter involving Ramos, Cicinelli and four other officers who were not charged in the case.
Ron Thomas was seated in the front row Monday at the hearing when, during testimony from a forensics specialist, images taken at the hospital of his son's bloodied and bruised body were shown to the court. He was in the hospital room when the pictures were taken.
"I've seen them so many times, I live this 24-7 -- I'm very used to them," Thomas said outside the courtroom.
But Monday's testimony also included information Thomas said he had not heard. A responding paramedic testified that he was directed to officers after arriving at the transportation center.
"That's the first I heard of that," Thomas said. "All those police officers standing around and nobody's saying, 'Look at this man in the gutter, nobody's helping him.'
"They’re worried about little Band-Aid scratches of themselves, not my son dying."
Fullerton Fire Capt. Ron Stancyk testified that he noticed Thomas leaning up against a police officer's leg about one minute later. He rushed to give him aid, he testified.
Rackauckas presented several items -- including batons and a blood-stained stun gun, all sealed in plastic bags -- that he said were used in the altercation. The batons were used by Ramos and Officer Joe Wolfe, Rackauckas said. The stun gun was used by Cicinelli, he said.
A forensics specialist testified about the items Monday morning. Dawn Scruggs, who responded to the transportation center, testified that the two accused officers said after the fight that Thomas would not stop struggling.
Cicinelli said at the scene that he was in "awe," Scruggs testified.
The case began with a report of someone attempting to break into cars at the transportation depot and eventually led to an internal review of the department and an FBI investigation. Outraged residents, including the victim's father, attended a series of packed city council meetings and launched a recall effort involving council members.
Some formed a group called "Kelly's Army," which has rallied around Ron Thomas.
Ultimately, Kelly Thomas died because of the force of the officers' compression on his chest, according to the District Attorney. The pressure made it impossible for Thomas to breathe, according to the DA's report.
In the surveillance video, Thomas can be heard screaming, "I can't breathe."
Both officers pleaded not guilty. 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.
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."
But it was Ramos' actions that set in motion the chain of events that led to the death, the DA said. After responding to the report of the vehicle break-ins, Ramos allegedly showed Thomas his fists and said, "Now see my fists? They are getting ready to 'F' you up."
The DA's investigation included witness accounts, audio recorded on digital recording devices worn by the officers and video from the Fullerton bus terminal. Thomas' family has requested to view the evidence, but an Orange County Superior Court judge denied a request to view the records.
As for the independent review of the department, an investigator determined in February that the department "did not intend to deceive or falsify information."
Ramos and Cicinelli were placed on unpaid administrative leave. The police chief at the time of the beating, Michael Sellers, went on extended medical leave in August during the furor over the beating and retired in February with a $150,000 settlement.