Update: 1:50 p.m.: Following the morning recess, Orange County District Atty. Tony Rackauckas resumed his questioning of former FBI tactics expert John A. Wilson Jr.
Gone from the large projection screen was an aerial photo of the Fullerton Transportation Center that had been shown before defense attorney John Barnett objected to its use.
Instead, the video of the incident was played, starting from the beginning of the conversation between defendant Manuel Ramos and Kelly Thomas.
Thirty seconds in Rackauckus pauses the video on a frame showing Ramos standing next to Thomas who is wearing a backpack.
Rackauckas: “Is there a show of force here?”
Wilson: “The mere presence of a police officer in uniform is a show of force as is his [Ramos’] hand on the straight baton.” In the video , Ramos is seen twirling his baton in his right hand.
Rackauckas advances the video and pauses again. “Do you see any progression?” he asks Wilson.
Wilson: “Yes, Officer Ramos has made his appearance with his uniform on and his baton is displayed.”
The video is again played and paused.
Rackauckas: “Does this officer show any indication that there is any kind of a threat from this person, Kelly Thomas?
Judge William Froeberg: “Sustained.”
Several more questions from Rackauckas met objections from Barnett and were sustained by the judge. Rackauckas resumed playing the video of the conversation between Ramos and Thomas.
At 5:14 in the video, Rackauckas paused it again. He asked Wilson several questions about police procedure. Barnett raised several objections which Judge Froeberg sustained.
One question was answered: Wilson said the confrontation, still only verbal, was beginning to escalate at this point.
The video was played again with Thomas shown sitting on the ground, following instructions from Ramos, as their conversation continued. Ramos is heard telling Thomas about the possibility of Thomas being arrested on suspicion of burglary and going to jail.
Ramos: “How much of you had to drink today?”
Thomas: “I had a beer today.”
Thomas, at Ramos request, is now sitting on the ground with his legs straight out in front of him and his arms placed behind his back.
The video is stopped at 12:22.
Rackauckas: “Is this is an opportunity for the officer to make an arrest at this point?”
Wilson: “Yes. This is a perfect opportunity that presents the least amount of risk associated with this tactical decision.”
The video is played again. Ramos and Thomas continue in conversation. It is paused at 13:46.
Rackauckas: “Do you have an opinion whether Kelly Thomas poses a risk or harm to the officers?”
Barnett: “Objection, no foundation.”
Judge Froeberg: “Sustained. Counsel in sidebar.”
Following the sidebar, the video is played again. This time, it is paused as Ramos is seen turning his back and walking away from Kelly Thomas.
Rackauckas: “If a person being detained is a threat to police or anyone else would a police officer walk away and leave him sitting there?”
Wilson: “Clearly, no.”
Wilson: “It gives the suspect the opportunity to act, it’s inherently dangerous to turn your back on someone you think may have committed a crime. It increases your risk by turning your back on a suspect you haven’t frisked […] It’s extremely dangerous in a situation like this.”
At the next point where the video is paused, Ramos has returned from his patrol car to Thomas, putting rubber gloves on.
Wilson was asked whether putting on the rubber gloves was a show of force by Judge Froeberg, after Barnett objected to several Rackauckas’ questions about the gloves.
Wilson: “It indicates that there is going to be contact made, where blood or some body fluid may be exposed due to some form of contact.”
A few more seconds of the video is played and paused (15:39). It now shows Ramos, with gloves on, standing over Thomas, still sitting.
Ramos is heard saying, “See my fists, they’re going to f*** you up.”
Rackauckas: “Did you hear that threat?”
Rackauckas: “Did you see any indication that Kelly Thomas was being arrested from the point Ramos returned from his patrol car to Thomas?”
The next portion of video played shows Thomas standing up, moving away from Ramos and a second responding officer Joe Wolfe.
Thomas is ordered to “get on the ground” as the three move out of the camera’s view briefly. Thomas is heard saying, “OK, I’m sorry, I’m sorry dude, OK, OK” in response to officers’ commands.
When the video is paused, Thomas is face down on the concrete, arms behind his back, with Wolfe on top of Thomas and Ramos on one side of Thomas.
Rackauckas asked Wilson about pain compliance techniques.
Barnett objected to one question and the judge overruled Barnett’s objection and repeated Rackauckas’ question to Wilson.
Judge Froeberg: “If an officer has control of an individual’s arm and it appears the arm is midway up the back, being pushed up by an officer is that a pain control technique?”
Wilson: “Yes, it is.”
The video is played again.
Thomas: “I can’t breathe man, please I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
Officer: “Put your hands behind your back.”
Thomas: “OK, I can’t breathe man. I can’t breathe, I can’t f****** breathe, man.”
Thomas: “I’m sorry dude, I’m sorry dude, please, please, please.”
Thomas: “Don’t, ouch.”
Thomas is now on his back and a Taser is used. Thomas screams. His screams increase.
The video is paused at this point.
Rackauckas asked Wilson if it is normal police procedure to use an so called “impact weapon” like a Taser on a suspect’s head. During the video, Cicinelli is seen using the Taser to hit Thomas on the head.
Cicinelli’s defense attorney, Michael Schwartz, objected. Judge Froeberg overruled.
Wilson: “No, that would be not good proper police procedure.”
Wilson: “An impact weapon to the face, to the head, and that’s going to cause serious bodily injury, which is considered deadly force.”
The court was recessed for lunch.
Rackauckas is expected to continue his questioning of Wilson, including playing of the video of the incident, when court resumes at 1:15 p.m.
11:03 a.m.: Trial resumed Monday for two former Fullerton police officers charged in connection with the 2011 death of Kelly Thomas, with a former FBI expert in the training of SWAT teams testifying that “too many officers […] may be detrimental” in tactical situations such as subduing suspects.
Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man, died five days after an altercation with six Fullerton police officers, including defendants Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli.
Ramos, 39, is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; and Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in Thomas’ death.
Under questioning from Orange County District Atty. Tony Rackauckas, former FBI unit chief John A. Wilson Jr. discussed the eight principals of tactical training, many of which are incorporated in the Fullerton Police Department policy manual.
“Being able to effectively communicate will reduce the chances of someone (suspect or law enforcement) getting hurt,” Wilson testified as he enumerated the principals.
He said the sixth tactical principle is “control of yourself, control of your suspect, control of your environment.”
“The best way to control a suspect is to put them in handcuffs and control ranges from verbal commands to handcuffs,” Wilson testified.
He said another principle is “superiority of personnel and firepower.”
But he said, “Too many officers and agents may be detrimental [in some situations].”
Rackauckus asked Wilson about the tactics for dealing with a high-risk confrontation between officers and a suspect. He also asked whether the conduct of Ramos and Cicinelli was reasonable under the circumstances of their 2011 encounter with Kelly Thomas.
Rackauckas: “You have developed some opinions in this case?
Wilson: “Yes sir.”
Rackauckas: “You have written a report and have it with you?”
Wilson: “Yes, sir.”
Rackauckas: “What were some of the areas you reviewed?”
Wilson: “The digital audio recorders [from Fullerton police officers at the scene of the incident] and the video I have reviewed. I reviewed the Peace Officers Standards and Training Manual and sections of the Fullerton Police Department manual.”
Wilson is a former Marine and was responsible for tactical team training, excluding SWAT. He testified that he taught tactical training to new FBI agents and to state and local police officers. Wilson said he had also developed tactical training curriculum. Wilson said he also had worked on an FBI narcotics task force and participated in more than 500 arrests during an eight-year stretch of his 26 year FBI career. Wilson, on questioning from Rackauckas, testified he is being paid $200 by Orange County to evaluate the case and serve as an expert witness.
Wilson said he reviewed the training and activity records for Ramos and Cicinelli, including their training in the use of lethal force, Fullerton Police Department reports of the incident and transcripts of the digital audio recorders.
Rackauckas showed an aerial photo of the Fullerton Transportation Center, where the altercation between officers and Thomas occurred the night of July 5, 2011. The photo showed a nearby bar, the bus depot, the incident location and the location of the surveillance camera. Rackauckas asked Wilson what would be good police procedure upon arriving at the scene.
During Wilson’s testimony, Ramos’ defense attorney John Barnett raised several objections, many sustained by Judge William Froeberg.
At one point Barnett told Froeberg he objected to the entire line of questioning. The judge and attorneys met in a sidebar outside the courtroom to discuss the objection. Following the sidebar, Judge Froeberg adjourned the court for the morning break.
6 a.m. The trial resumes Monday in a Santa Ana courtroom for two former Fullerton police officers charged in the July 5, 2011, death of a homeless, mentally ill man.
Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; and Jay Cicinelli , 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37.
Orange County prosecutors are expected to call more witnesses Monday in the fifth day of the trial.
Several key witnesses and evidence were presented by prosecutors in the trial’s first week:
- The Fullerton Police Department crime scene investigator, Dawn Scruggs, who collected evidence at the Fullerton Transportation Center the night of the incident.
- Paramedics, including Fullerton Fire Department Capt. Ron Stancyk, who treated and transported Thomas.
- The Fullerton police sergeant who synchorized audio from officers’ voice recorders to a surveillance video of the incident.
- Pathologist, Aruna Singhania, who performed the autopsy on Thomas.
Singhania testified Thomas died from a lack of oxygen to his brain caused in part by chest compression and blunt force trauma to his head and face that happened during the struggle with officers.
Defense attorneys questioned Singhania about her cause of death conclusion.
Defense attorneys for Ramos and Cicinelli have said in court that Kelly Thomas died from an enlarged heart, brought on by years of drug abuse.
During her testimony, Orange County District Atty. Tony Rackauckas asked Singhania if Thomas died from an enlarged heart.
“He died with an enlarged heart, not from an enlarged heart,” Singhania said. “That’s (enlarged heart) not part of the cause of death.”
A video of the incident was also played in the court in addition to an audio-only version. Both begin when Ramos begins talking to Thomas.
The roughly 34-minute video, taken from a surveillance camera at the bus center, was synchronized with audio from Fullerton officers’ voicer recorders. Once the physical struggle begins, Thomas cries for help, repeatedly calling out for his dad, Ron Thomas.
Also last week, graphic, color photos of Thomas, taken in the hospital the night of the incident and during the autopsy, were shown.
The court recessed earlier than planned last Thursday, when Rackauckas told Judge William Froeberg that his next witness was coming from out of state and was not available.
Source: Ed Joyce