The family of Kelly Thomas says he was schizophrenic and homeless, one of the people our society leaves behind.
Police say he was a drug addict with a history of violence who’d destroyed his own mental health by abusing methamphetamine, LSD and other drugs since he was in the 10th grade.
Either way, the 37-year-old Thomas, known around the Orange County, Calif., college town of Fullerton as “Crazy Kelly,” screamed repeatedly for help from his dad and panicked that he couldn’t breathe as cops beat him into unconsciousness on June 5, 2011.
His father was miles away as Thomas absorbed the blows from police, suffering injuries that proved fatal five days later when he was taken off a life-support machine. Coroners determined that he died from a crushed thorax, which made it impossible for Thomas to breathe, causing a cutoff of oxygen to his brain.
Monday morning, two of the officers who were recorded on video attacking Thomas in the Fullerton bus station parking lot finally went on trial. One of them, Manuel Ramos, is charged with murder. The other, Jay Cicinelli, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The second-degree murder charge against Ramos, 39, marks a milestone for conservative, police-friendly Orange County — the first time a cop has gone on trial for murder.
The surveillance video at the core of the case can be viewed below. Prosecutors say that the footage shows Ramos taunting the mentally ill man until he’s so frightened he tries to run, giving the cops an excuse to tackle and pummel him into submission.
On the video, before the beating starts, Ramos can be heard chiding Thomas, “It seems like every day, we have to talk to you about something. ... Do you enjoy it?”
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The officer later puts on plastic gloves and taunts the disheveled, homeless man further.
“Now see my fists?” the officer asked. “They are getting ready to f*** you up.”
But the defense lawyers say that the video will help their own case, once it’s put in context. They say it doesn’t show Thomas grabbing for an officer’s gun. It also does not show Thomas’s long history of confrontations with law enforcement, nor his history of drug abuse.
Thomas had once been convicted of attacking his grandfather with a metal fireplace poker, though that was the only time he was convicted of a crime. His mother had a restraining order against him from an in incident in which he choked her.
But no drugs were found in Thomas’s system the night he was beaten to death by police. And his family says that his history of run-ins with the cops, mostly over such petty offenses as vandalism and urinating in a public water fountain, don’t matter when it comes to what happened on that night outside a bus station more than two years ago.
“It doesn’t matter what my son did in his life, it just doesn’t matter,” said Thomas’s father, Ray. “It’s what the officers did that night. That’s what this trial’s about.”