(CNS) - The mother of a homeless man who died following a struggle with Fullerton police sobbed softly in court today as prosecutors showed jurors video of the battle that led to her son's death.
Jurors also heard audio recordings of multiple encounters Kelly Thomas had with one Manuel Ramos, one of two former officers on trial for the man's death. In the recordings, Ramos chides Thomas for begging from customers at stores and reminds him the business owners don't want him around.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in his opening statement Monday that Ramos and Thomas had multiple encounters, and the officer knew Thomas. Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, said his client really could not recall Thomas' name, as was the case in their past meetings.
At the onset of the July 5, 2011, deadly struggle, Ramos repeatedly presses Thomas to give him his name, according to video of the encounter.
Thomas' sarcastic replies heighten the tension between the two as Ramos threatens to take the homeless man to jail.
Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, while former police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
In most of the encounters between Ramos and Thomas before the 2011 struggle, the officer recognized the transient, but usually needed a reminder of his name, according to the audio recordings.The recordings also showed a pattern of sarcasm between the two, with Ramos at one point asking the transient where his government assistance checks are delivered. Thomas replied, "Knott's Berry Farm."
On another occasion when Thomas tells Ramos he served in the U.S. Army, the officer says also also served. He then tells Thomas to "grab your stuff and start marching. Those are your marching orders."
Rackauckas told jurors Monday the defendants killed a "harmless" homeless man on July 5, 2011 while defense attorneys responded that their clients did not cause Thomas' death and did not violate the law as they confronted an unruly, combative man.
The county's top prosecutor characterized the July 2011 meeting between the two as "routine."
"This was a routine encounter for both Kelly Thomas and Manuel Ramos," he said. "But within the space of 30 minutes, Kelly was lying in a pool of blood, unconscious and dying."
Rackauckas said that during the confrontation at the Fullerton Transportation Center, Cicinelli "pummeled" Thomas with the butt of a stun gun.
"Cpl. Cicinelli recklessly and repeatedly beat Kelly Thomas in the face and head with his Taser," Rackauckas said, adding the defendant also used his weight to pin Thomas down so he could not breathe.
Police went to the Fullerton Transportation Center the night of the beating in response to a 911 call from the nearby Slidebar nightclub that someone -- investigators later determined it was not Thomas -- was trying to break into cars outside the club.
Ramos and Officer Joe Wolfe -- who was indicted for involuntary manslaughter and excessive force and will be tried separately -- confronted Thomas at the transportation center while Wolfe went through a backpack Thomas had with him.
After Wolfe and Ramos discussed arresting Thomas, Ramos' manner "went from casual to malicious," Rackauckas said.Ramos "stood over him in this menacing manner," as he "puts on a show putting on white, latex gloves," Rackauckas said.
Then Ramos held up his fists to Thomas and threatened to "(expletive) you up."As baton blows rained on Thomas, the transient repeatedly apologized and cried out for help from his father and God, Rackauckas said, citing the videotape of the beating. Thomas also repeatedly said he could not breathe, he added.
Thomas was pronounced dead five days later at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. An autopsy showed he died from a lack of oxygen to the brain because of the pressure on his chest and bleeding in his nose, Rackauckas said, adding there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs in Thomas' system at the time.
Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, told jurors that Thomas struggled with alcoholism and abused methamphetamine for years starting in the 10th grade and that the drugs left him a "time bomb" who would periodically "explode" into violence.
"This is a case about a man who made bad choices in his life," Barnett said. "This is not a case about a bully cop who targeted homeless men."
Ron Thomas, a former sheriff deputy, says his late son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Defense attorneys say there's no proof of the diagnosis.
Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the evidence will show Thomas had an "enlarged heart" due to years of drug abuse and that he lapsed into cardiac arrest when he over-exerted himself. The blows and chest compression did not kill Thomas, he said.
"A tragedy? Yes," Schwartz said. "A crime? No"