One of the officers charged with killing a mentally ill homeless man during a violent encounter can be heard on an audio recording proclaiming that he had hit the man 20 times in the face with his stun gun.
The tape, which was recorded on a device worn by one of the officers the night of the beating, was played for jurors Tuesday in the first full day of testimony in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused of killing Kelly Thomas.
“I ... hit him 20 times in the face with the Taser,” former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli can be heard telling other officers in the audio tape.
Cicinelli, 41, faces involuntary manslaughter and excessive force charges in the 2011 beating. Former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
The audio tape came from a device worn by Cpl. John Ema, one of the officers who swarmed to the scene on a July night in 2011.
Cicinelli’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, disputed that his client actually struck Thomas in the face 20 times.
“That’s not what happened,” Schwartz said outside the Santa Ana courtroom. “What he’s saying is driven by his heightened state of anxiety, stress and disbelief.”
In his opening statements Monday, Schwartz said his client encountered a combative, uncontrollable suspect who grabbed his Taser.
At times what appears to be Cicinelli striking Thomas in the face is him actually hitting the homeless man’s hand to push it away from the stun gun, Schwartz said.
“An officer is trained in the state of California to never relinquish the weapon to a suspect,” Schwartz said.
Jurors on Tuesday were also shown security footage of the encounter between Thomas and police outside a Fullerton bus depot. The 33-minute video is a compilation of cameras from the bus depot and audio from recording devices worn by police officers.
The grainy black and white video is a key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case and captured the Fullerton police officers hitting Thomas with batons and a Taser, in addition to shocking him with the device. Several people, including Thomas’ mother, cried as the tape played.
Thomas was in a coma after the incident and died five days later.
The footage begins with Ramos approaching Thomas after receiving a 911 call of someone attempting to break into cars.
“Isn’t it Kelly Thomas?” Ramos said minutes into the video.
“Yeah,” Thomas said.
Seconds later Ramos asks him for his name again and Thomas said he forgot it.
Then, about 15 minutes into the video, Ramos tells Thomas “Now you see my fists?... They’re getting ready to ... you up.”
“Start punching dude,” Thomas said.
Ramos then tells Thomas to put his feet out and his hands on his knees.
“Well hey I’m sick of playing games, which one is it?” Thomas said.
Ramos grabs his arm; Thomas pushes it and starts to move away from Ramos who takes out his baton. As Thomas is walking away, another officer is seen swinging his baton at the homeless man’s legs.
That officer, Joe Wolfe, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and will be tried separately.
The three move out of view from the camera and Thomas can be heard screaming in pain.
“I’m sorry dude, I’m sorry” Thomas is heard saying.
“I can’t breath,” Thomas said. “Dad help me, dad help me.”
Cicinelli later can be heard explaining: “I ran out ... we ran out of options, so I got the end of my Taser and I probably … I just start smashing his face to hell. He’s on something, dude.”
Earlier in the day jurors were played audio of Ramos’ previous encounters with Thomas going back to 2009. In each one of them, Thomas is being told to leave either a shopping center or business.
During a 2009 encounter, Ramos can be heard saying: “Have you ever been hit with one of these things?”
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, who is trying the case, said Monday that the former officer was referring to his baton.
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