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Kelly Thomas a dangerous and violent man, officer's attorney says

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeHomicideCrimeLee Baca

Kelly Thomas was a dangerous man and the Fullerton police officer charged with his murder was a good cop who did as he was trained, the officer’s defense attorney told an Orange County jury on Tuesday.

“He’s not some bully cop harassing homeless people for fun,” attorney John Barnett said.

Barnett began presenting his closing argument Tuesday afternoon in the trial of Manuel Ramos, who is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas, a Fullerton transient who died five days after a violent encounter with Ramos and other officers. A second former officer, Jay Cicinelli, is being tried alongside Ramos and is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

Thomas’ death after the July 2011 confrontation with police galvanized a series of protests against police brutality, led to the recall of City Council members and resulted in an unprecedented murder charge in Orange County against a police officer.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas gave his closing argument earlier in the day. Cicinelli’s attorney will follow Barnett on Wednesday.

Barnett began his argument by questioning whether the prosecution proved its contention that Thomas died because his chest was compressed during the altercation with police.

He pointed to the testimony of a defense expert who said Thomas’ death was caused by an enlarged heart due to previous methamphetamine use and to a medical record, which, Barnett said, showed that hospital personnel had a difficult time inserting a breathing tube into Thomas’ throat. He said the mistake could have killed Thomas.

“What does all this medical testimony tell you?” Barnett asked. “There’s like an active controversy among leading minds in the country in these fields. So they can’t agree. They can’t agree.”

Barnett then pointed to a series of incidents in which Thomas acted violently – including a 1995 incident in which he beat his 73-year-old grandfather with a fireplace poker and an incident in which he grabbed his mother by the throat.

“No one knew from one move to the other whether he would do something violent, do something crazy,” Barnett said.

On the night of Thomas' confrontation with police, Barnett said, Ramos tried to reason with Thomas, who responded by being verbally aggressive.

“They don’t intend to harass this guy. They want to get on with their work, with their night. But they’ve got to do this,” Barnett said.

A few minutes into their interaction, Thomas is seen in the video, sitting while Ramos tells him repeatedly to put his legs in front of him and his hands on his knees. Prosecutors said Thomas seemed confused by the order, alternately putting his legs out and then pulling them in and putting his hands on his knees. Barnett said Thomas was simply refusing to follow the commands.

When Ramos told Thomas, “See my fists…they’re getting ready to ... you up,” he also added, “If you don’t start listening,” Barnett said.

“What he is saying is, 'You have to do what I tell you, and what I tell you is keep your hands on your knees, keep your feet crossed,'” Barnett said. “Now he is not following simple, direct and important orders that ensure the safety of the officer.”

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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