A 26-year FBI veteran and expert on the use of force by police sharply criticized the conduct of two Fullerton, Calif. officers on trial for the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man two years ago, saying that the officers used excessive and deadly force, didn’t follow good police procedures and deliberately escalated the encounter with the suspect until it exploded into violence.
Manuel Ramos is on trial for second-degree murder in the videotaped beating death of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, a well-known character around Fullerton. Another officer, Jay Cicinelli, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Orange County prosecutors called John A. Wilson as an expert witness to interpret the video recording that captured the fatal beating and the encounter that led up to it. The two officers answered a call on July 5, 2011 of a man trying to break into cars in the parking lot of a local bus station.
At one point, Ramos (pictured, in court) pulls on plastic gloves and tells Thomas, "See these fists? They're getting ready to f*** you up."
But Wilson called that an unprofessional move that “changed everything” about the encounter, because Thomas, despite making some smart-alecky remarks, had already complied with the officer’s commands.
“Any further threats only increase the chances the situation could spiral downward,” Wilson testified, under questioning from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Use of profanity by the officer served only to “create hostility to that individual and increase the chances of something not good happening,” the expert witness said.
Wilson also testified that by putting on plastic gloves, Ramos was taking a preventive measure against possible splatter of blood or other body fluids, an indication that he anticipated violence.
Cathy Thomas, the victim’s mother, had to leave the courtroom as prosecutors repeatedly screened the video of her son being beaten to death by the two cops.
When they responded to the call, the officers did nothing but confront Thomas. Wilson criticized them for failing to inspect the parking lot for evidence of break-ins, or to track down the tipster who placed the initial call from a nearby bar.
Instead, they zeroed in on Thomas, Ramos confronting him with an unholstered baton which put Thomas on the defensive immediately.
At one point Thomas said, "Just take me to jail and get it over with.”
That moment presented the perfect opportunity for the officers to simply place Thomas peacefully into custody, Wilson said. Instead, they continued to make the situation more dangerous.
When the officers were beating him, Thomas screamed that he couldn’t breathe. The officers needed to stop their attack at that point, Wilson said.
Later, an obviously suffering Thomas can be heard to cry out, “Help me, Dad!” Not only should the officers have no longer been trying to control Thomas at that point, they should have been administering life-saving first aid.
Instead, the beating continued.
Wilson was paid $200 per hour to prepare for the testimony by reviewing video and audio of the incident, as well as official documents. He said he spent 60 hours in preparation for his testimony.
See the video of the police beating, below.