Two former Fullerton police officers were determined to brutalize a homeless man who acted in self defense in a violent struggle for his life during a fatal confrontation at a bus station, according to prosecutors who presented their closing argument Tuesday in the case against the officers.
Kelly Thomas died five days after he was confronted in July 2011 by Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli outside a Fullerton transit station. Ramos is charged with second degree murder. Cicinelli is on trial for manslaughter and use of excessive force.
"The people's view of this is Kelly Thomas was acting in self defense," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "We don't expect our police officers to mistreat people because they don't like them. Our laws don't allow police to take a dislike to someone and then administer a punishment. It's for police to gather the evidence, make the arrest, if necessary.
"It's one of the major differences between us and a police state."
The confrontation occurred after officers, who had been in contact with Thomas before, received a report of someone possibly breaking into vehicles in a parking lot. Prosecutors on Tuesday portrayed the officers as having a grudge against Thomas after past run-ins with him.
Rackauckas played surveillance video Tuesday that captured the parking lot confrontation. Audio recording devices worn by the officers captured Ramos telling Thomas that he was "getting ready to f--- you up," marking a clear indication that the officers intended to harm Thomas, the district attorney said.
"There's no statement of arrest," said Rackauckas. "He never tells Kelly Thomas he's going to be arrested, as opposed to being f----- up by the defendant's fists.
"(Kelly Thomas) was just trying to survive is all he was doing. Look at the kinds of things he was saying: 'Please sir,' 'I'm sorry,' 'I can't breathe.'"
Proseuctors called their final witness, a medical expert, to the stand Monday. Dr. Matthew Budoff, of Harbor UCLA Medical Center, refused the defense's claims that Thomas died from drug abuse and heart problems. Thomas died because his heart was starved of oxygen during the struggle with six Fullerton officers, Budoff said.
Under cross-examination by Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, Budoff acknowledged he did not do any microscopic analysis of Thomas' heart. He also acknowledged that Thomas' heart was about 20 percent heavier than it should be for someone his age when he died, but Budoff said that could have been because of fluids pumped into his body to try to save his life.
"He didn't have enough oxygen going through his heart muscle at that time," Budoff testified.
Other expert witnesses for the prosecution have testified Thomas' breathing was affected during the struggle by officers compressing the his chest and by blood choking his airways when his nose was broken.
Budoff insisted Thomas did not have a heart attack.
The coroner's report determined Thomas died from chest compression during the struggle.
Defense attorneys are scheduled to present their closing argument later Tuesday. They have claimed that Thomas resisted arrest and forced the officers to call for back-up.
Former Officer Joe Wolfe, who was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force, will be tried separately.