Jury selection has opened in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who was a well-known figure in the city’s downtown area.
Former Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the July 2011 death of the 37-year-old Thomas.
A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, faces involuntary manslaughter charges and will be tried separately.
In the run-up to jury selection, a pool of 118 potential jurors were asked about their experiences with homeless people, mental health issues and excessive use of force by police as part of a 13-page questionnaire:
"Have you or a close friend or relative ever resisted arrest or been the subject of excessive use of force by law enforcement?"
"Do you have any strongly held beliefs about how much force a police officer may lawfully use to make an arrest?"
"Have you ever had any negative experiences with anyone who appeared to be a homeless person?"
The questionnaire also asked if the fact that Tony Rackauckas, Orange County’s longtime district attorney, was the lead trial lawyer for the prosecution, would it affect their decision.
Potential jurors were asked whether they believed that law enforcement officers were “always” truthful.
The centerpiece of the prosecution is likely to be a grainy black-and-white video that shows a shirtless Thomas being repeatedly struck by police and eventually calling out for help.
"Dad, they are killing me," he yells at one point.
By the time the confrontation ends, Thomas is lying in a pool of blood as officers then examine their own conditions as they stand over Thomas, handcuffed and on the ground, the video shows.
"You are covered in blood, dude," one officer can be heard saying to another.
Cicinelli adds: "He is the one you're gonna need to look at."
The trial is tentatively set to open Dec. 2.
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