Kelly Thomas beating case: DA tells jurors to ‘send a message’

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas shows the jury an image of Fullerton police trying to subdue Kelly Thomas.
(Bruce Chambers / Associated Press)

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told jurors Tuesday that they will be the conscience of the county when they decide whether a pair of former street cops should be convicted of beating a homeless man to death at a busy Fullerton bus station in 2011.

“You’re going to send a message to the defendants, to the police and to the public as to whether or not the conduct depicted in this case … is acceptable,” Rackauckas said.

Rackauckas presented his closing argument Tuesday morning in the case of former Officer Manuel Ramos and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force in the death of Kelly Thomas, a Fullerton transient whose death five days after the July 2011 beating 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.

During the first 90 minutes of his argument, Rackauckas methodically described the evidence presented to the jury since the trial began in early December. He dismissed defense witnesses who said Thomas had a history of violence and drug use as efforts to smear the homeless man. And he returned again and again to a surveillance video which captured the confrontation between Thomas and police.


“You can see and hear for yourself what happened,” Rackauckas said. “As you watch, you realize that what you’re watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of police.”

A few minutes into his presentation, Rackauckas played several clips of the black-and-white surveillance video, which is paired with audio from the officers’ digital recorders.

In the first few minutes, Ramos can be seen talking with Thomas, asking his name and whether Thomas was rattling car doors in the parking lot. Ramos and another officer were responding to a call saying that someone was trying to open car doors in a nearby parking lot.

Ramos was acting unprofessionally almost from the time he stopped Thomas, Rackauckas said.

As the encounter went on, Ramos became more and more confrontational with Thomas until he pulled out a pair of gloves and told him “See these fists?... They’re getting ready to ... you up.”

“Can you imagine having a police officer say something like that when you’re sitting there?” Rackauckas asked the jury, his voice rising. “What does that mean? I’m ready to ... you up? That means I’m gonna beat you up severely. That means there’s gonna be injuries here.”

Defense attorneys are expected to begin presenting their arguments Tuesday afternoon. The case then goes to the jury.