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Expert says Fullerton police used deadly force against Kelly Thomas

As he watched a video of a homeless man being beaten by Fullerton police, a former FBI agent and use-of-force expert testified Monday that the officers' actions were excessive and that blows to the head constituted deadly force.

John A. Wilson provided commentary to surveillance footage that is considered key to the prosecution's case against the two former officers charged in the beating death of Kelly Thomas.

"That would not be good proper police procedure," Wilson, a 26-year FBI veteran, said when asked hypothetically about a suspect being hit on the head. Such a blow "is going to cause serious bodily injuries."

Wilson was called by prosecutors to review the actions of former Fullerton officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who was a familiar figure on the streets of Fullerton, died five days after being beaten by police at the city's bustling transportation center.

Prosecutors maintain that Thomas was struck repeatedly in the face with the front of Cicinelli's Taser and that the injuries contributed to his death. Audio from the night captures Cicinelli saying he hit Thomas 20 times in the face with his stun gun.

Michael Schwartz, Cicinelli's attorney, says his client didn't hit Thomas in the face 20 times, adding the comments were made in a time of stress and disbelief.

Wilson also testified that when the video captures Ramos putting on latex gloves and threatening to punch Thomas, it was a show of force by Ramos: "It indicates there's going to be contact made, or blood or some body fluid may be exposed as a result of a violent contact."

Threats can be used to control a suspect, he said, but it was unprofessional for Ramos to use profanity despite Thomas' doing so. "It changed everything," Wilson said.

In the video, Ramos puts on the gloves and tells Thomas, "See these fists? They're getting ready to [expletive] you up."

Wilson, who is being paid $200 as an expert witness, said officers used a "pain compliance" technique when they put Thomas' arm behind his back while he was on the ground. But the technique was counterproductive, he said, because Thomas wasn't given the opportunity to comply.

Defense attorneys countered that Wilson has no experience in the type of field encounters a beat cop would face and that his 500 arrests were made after conducting in-depth investigations.

Wilson said officers should have stopped hitting Thomas after he started complaining that he couldn't breathe and a pool of blood started forming on the concrete. He also noted that officers should've considered letting Thomas go because he was not an immediate threat early in the encounter.

John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, asked if Thomas would have posed a greater threat if he had taken a swing at Ramos when they were on the ground. "At this point Mr. Thomas is defending himself, not resisting," Wilson said. "If excessive force was used … he has the right to defend himself."

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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