The trial of two Fullerton police officers accused in the fatal beating of Kelly Thomas is set to get underway Monday.
Former Fullerton officer Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
When the officers' trial begins Monday, prosecutors will zoom in on their actions, such as a moment when Ramos pulled on a pair of white latex gloves and told 37-year-old Thomas, "Now you see my fists? ... They're getting ready to f- you up."
But the officers' attorneys will challenge the notion that Thomas, who suffered from schizophrenia, was a passive, confused transient who helplessly weathered a beating from police until he crumpled to the ground, blood running from his head.
"The evidence is going to show that Kelly Thomas has a violent history," said John Barnett, Ramos' attorney. "And that the police officers were going to let him go, wanted to let him go, that night. All he had to do is identify himself and he wouldn't do that.... And he tried to escape, to get away, then he fought them when they were trying to restrain him."
Barnett and Cicinelli's attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, have indicated they will use Thomas' criminal history and a 1995 report of chronic drug use to paint a more disturbing picture of Thomas than the one that emerged in the months after his death.
"For the past 2 1/2 years he's been made out in the media as being a docile, gentle, passive homeless person and the reality is it's almost the opposite," Schwartz said.
A 33-minute tape from a bus depot synced with audio from the officers' recorders will be a key piece of evidence in the trial. It shows brutal images of the encounter that night, including moments when Thomas screams out for his father — "Dad, they're killing me" — and, repeatedly, "I can't breathe."
Without the tape, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, who is trying the case, has said it's unlikely the same charges could have been filed.