Kelly Thomas Was “in Fight That He Started”: Defense

Two former Fullerton police officers are on trial for the death of a homeless man they confronted on a July 2011 patrol call

Closing arguments continued Wednesday in the trial of two former police officers accused in the death of a homeless man they confronted after responding to a patrol call at a transit station.

Kelly Thomas Case: Full Coverage | Timeline of Events

Former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, has pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. He is the first police officer in Orange County to be charged with murder on duty.

Former Fullerton Cpl. Jay Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive use of force.

Wednesday's proceedings included an admonishment from the judge who informed those in the courtroom that someone had taken a picture of the jury and posted the image on Twitter. Reporters in the courtroom are allowed to use electronic devices, but only to take notes.

The photo appeared to be taken as jurors exited the jury box. The judge did not say how the picture will affect the trial.

"If I find out who took this picture, you're going  to jail," Judge William Froeberg said.

On Tuesday,
prosecutors said the officers were intent on beating Kelly Thomas when they encountered the 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man after responding to reports of vehicle break-ins. Attorneys presented different portrayals Tuesday of the events that followed.

Defense attorneys claimed Thomas had a history of unprovoked outbursts. Prosecutors called him a victim of police brutality as they showed a 33-minute surveillance video that showed the confrontation and struggle, which eventually involved four other officers.

The video shows Thomas kneeing, pummeling and repeatedly stunning Thomas with an electric gun as he cries out for his father nearly 30 times, apologizes and begs for air. Thomas may have struggled with officers, but only because he "was just trying to survive," the district attorney.

"As you watch, you realize that what you're watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of the police," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "You're watching a homicide."

Thomas died at a hospital five days after the July 5, 2011 beating.

But Ramos' defense attorney, John Barnett, countered in his closing argument that Thomas was a violent, unpredictable man who was to blame for the officers' treatment because he didn't follow a lawful order despite repeated instructions and was combative.

"This case is not about a homeless, helpless, harmless mentally ill guy," he told jurors. "What these officers were dealing with on July 5 was a dangerous guy, a very dangerous guy."

Barnett reminded the jury that Thomas' mother had taken out a restraining order against him after he choked her during a fight. He also attacked his grandfather with a fireplace poker in 1995 -- an attack that left Thomas a convicted felon. Both were called as hostile witnesses by the defense.

"This case isn't about a bully cop who was just trying to beat down a homeless guy," Barnett said. "It's about a police officer who, for 10 years, protected his community and did everything he could do to keep his community safe, including the homeless people."

Continuing his final argument Wednesday, Barnett said Thomas' own words, captured on audio recording devices worn by the officers, suggest he did not feel threatened After Ramos put on a pair of latex gloves and told Thomas his fist were ready "f--- you up," Thomas responded, "Start punching dude."

Cicinelli's attorney accused prosecutors of stooping to "myths" because they lack the  evidence to convict his client and Ramos. One of the "myths" in the prosecution's case is that Thomas had a  right to self-defense and resist arrest because Ramos' threat frightened him, attorney Michael Schwartz told the jury.

"The first myth I'm going to talk about is the myth that Kelly Thomas throughout this ordeal was afraid for his life," Schwartz said. "He found himself in the middle of a fight that he started."

The case led to the recall of three Fullerton City Council members and the departure of the police chief. Dozens of people have attended the trial each day wearing yellow ribbons and buttons bearing Thomas' image.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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