SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A defense attorney argued Tuesday that a violent, unpredictable homeless man was to blame for his treatment by two California police officers during an arrest that led to his death.
"This case is not about a homeless, helpless, harmless mentally ill guy," lawyer John Barnett told jurors during his closing argument in the case against the two officers now charged with killing Kelly Thomas. "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, the lawyer said.
Former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, has pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive use of force.
A third officer will be tried separately. Three others were not charged.
It's the first time an officer has been charged with murder in Orange County for actions taken in the line of duty.
"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."
Earlier in the day, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas repeatedly replayed clips from a 33-minute, black-and-white surveillance video at the center of the trial, saying it provided clear-cut evidence that the two officers are responsible for the death of Thomas.
In it, the 37-year-old Thomas cries out repeatedly for his father, apologizes and says he can't breathe as six officers pile on him.
Friends and family members of Thomas sobbed as the video played on a large screen. One woman dashed out of the courtroom, her hand over her mouth.
"As you watch, you realize that what you're watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of the police," Rackauckas said. "You're watching a homicide."
Thomas' father has said his son suffered from schizophrenia.
The July 2011 death of Thomas 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.
The confrontation began with a routine call about a disheveled man jiggling the door handles of cars in a transit center parking lot.
The video begins shortly after Ramos pulls up, and he can be heard trying to get Thomas to give his name and sit on the curb with his hands on his knees while another officer searches his backpack. Thomas was shirtless and had a huge, bushy beard and baggy pants.
When Thomas didn't comply, Ramos put on a pair of Latex gloves, made two fists and told Thomas, "Now you see my fists? They're getting ready to (expletive) you up."
Thomas stood up and started to run but was overtaken by the officers, who called for backup as the struggle with Thomas grew.
Cicinelli, who arrived shortly after the incident began, struck Thomas eight times in the face and head with a stun gun and stunned him repeatedly, according to prosecutors.
Ramos had seven previous encounters with Thomas, who had also been written up for trespassing, urinating in a fountain, punching someone in the face, throwing large rocks and threatening the owner of a fruit stand with a metal pipe.
Rackauckas told jurors that Ramos was fed up with dealing with Thomas and lost his temper. He signaled his intent to harm Thomas when he put on the gloves and made fists without saying he was going to arrest Thomas.
"Can you imagine that? Can you imagine having a police officer saying something like that when you're sitting there?" he asked the jury, adding that Thomas reacted in self-defense. "What does that mean? That means, 'I'm going to beat you up severely. There's going to be injuries here.'"
The coroner listed the cause of death as asphyxiation from the officers piling on his chest during the struggle.
Defense attorneys countered during trial that Thomas suffered from a weakened heart from years of methamphetamine abuse and was a mentally unstable and violent man who had abused drugs since 10th grade.
Prosecutors called experts who found that Thomas' heart was healthy and the normal size for a man his size and age, and blood tests at the hospital showed he suffered from severe lack of oxygen.
Blood tests also showed no alcohol or drugs in Thomas' system on the day of the struggle.