Ex-FBI Agent, Trauma Surgeon Testify That Kelly Thomas' Death Was A Result Of Officers' Excessive Force

from the normal-deployment-of-force-rarely-results-in-comas dept

When we last checked in on the trial of two Fullerton police officers charged in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, the defense attorney (John Barnett) for Manuel Ramos (who is facing charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter) argued that the responding officers didn’t use enough force when subduing the 135-pound man (right into an irreversible coma). In his words, Ramos (and the other five officers) were “losing the fight.”

The defense attorney argued that Thomas’ death was his own fault, brought on by a “lifetime” of “bad choices.” The defense also argued during opening statements that Thomas had died from a bad heart due to previous drug use (where have we heard that before?) and not from the combined application of force by six Fullerton officers.

The Orange County coroner’s office pathologist testified earlier that Thomas had died of “of brain damage from lack of oxygen caused by chest compression and injuries to his face,” but her testimony was somewhat undermined by some apparent confusion about what she had previously stated in a preliminary hearing. When challenged by Everett on her earlier claim that she had spotted a “single instance of compression” that led her to this conclusion, she stated that she had been “misinterpreted” and that the cause of death was a “constellation of injuries,” not one single injury.

This “misinterpretation” cast some doubt on the prosecutor’s assertions, but that reprieve for the defense was only temporary. Two other experts were brought in to testify and both came to the conclusion that Thomas’ death was due to the actions of the responding officers.

The first, a retired FBI agent, was brought in to analyze the officers’ use of force. Here are the conclusions he drew from the evidence.

John Wilson, who spent 60 hours studying the gruesome, July 2011, police attack on an unarmed Thomas, said that officer Manuel Ramos began the minor encounter unnecessarily by immediately taking out his baton, swinging it in both hands and poking it at the victim, who hadn’t been physically threatening.

But, according to Wilson, the most unprofessional moment prior to the killing occurred when Ramos mocked the schizophrenia-addled Thomas as stupid, dramatically put on gloves as he towered over him and said, “Now, you see my fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up.”

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas played related portions of a surveillance tape of the brutality and, over Ramos defense lawyer John Barnett’s incessant objections, asked Wilson if he considered the cop conduct appropriate under the circumstances.

“Clearly, no,” replied the 26-year FBI veteran, who at one point served on the U.S. Attorney General’s protection detail in Washington, D.C. “I have problems with everything that happened after Ramos put the gloves on.”

The defense responded by challenging the FBI veteran’s lack of “street cop” experience, asserting that because he’d never “walked a beat” (although he had worked both bank robberies and homicide as an agent), he had no idea what he was talking about. The former agent further enraged the defense attorneys by stating that Kelly Thomas had every right to fight back once the officers deployed excessive force.

The other witness was Dr. Michael Lekawa, the trauma surgeon (and chief of trauma surgery at the UC Irvine Medical Center) who treated Thomas. His testimony discussed the horrific condition Thomas arrived in.

When he arrived, Thomas was breathing through the tube, which was attached to an air bag that was squeezed by hand, Lekawa said. His blood pressure was extremely low and his PH score indicated that his body was producing so much acid that, the doctor said, he has never seen a patient with a similar PH score live.

“I’ve never seen a survivor, ever, in my 18 years,” he said.

Lekawa also added this damning statement:

The cause of Thomas’ death, Lekawa said, was inadequate oxygen to his brain. During the confrontation with police, “various persons were on [Thomas] and holding him down … preventing him from breathing,” Lekawa said.

“He was doing everything he could to breathe but becoming less and less mentally with it to do what he could to breathe,” he said.

During cross examination, Lekawa conceded that Thomas’ broken ribs may have been caused by CPR attempts made during the beaten man’s trip to the hospital (he flatlined during the ride). But he pointed out that he could not find evidence to back up another paramedic’s assertion that there had been difficulty inserting a breathing tube at hospital, another aspect the defense attorneys pressed as potential evidence Thomas’ death was due to actions taken by medical personnel.

All in all, not a very pleasant day for the defense. Of course, when an altercation between six cops and an unarmed, 135-lb. man begins with an officer announcing he’s “getting ready to fuck you up,” this tends to eliminate some of the “benefit of a doubt” that would be helpful in a trial like this.

On the other hand, this venue may not be all that advantageous for those hoping to see Thomas’ brutalizers brought to justice. The Orange County Register’s article closes with this rather depressing observation.

What impact the testimony and defense moves are having on jurors is unknown.

Orange County juries historically have given police officers carte blanche to use deadly force even against unarmed citizens and to lie in official reports that coverup police corruption.

If this is an accurate assessment, then it’s little wonder the incident at the center of this trial escalated the way it did. Fullerton police officers have become fearless over the years, thanks to the protective powers of the blue line, and the restorative effect of compliant juries.

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Comments on “Ex-FBI Agent, Trauma Surgeon Testify That Kelly Thomas' Death Was A Result Of Officers' Excessive Force”

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Anonymous Coward says:

inb4 timcushinghatescops.com

What are the three things that the police are supposed to do? Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. I’m quoting Robocop because it’s true; police should do that.

When a cop abuses the public trust to undermine the innocent, then turn around and claim that they were upholding the law, if your biggest problem with this picture is that it’s being called out, you need to take a good, hard look at your priorities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That entirely depends on how broadly you want to define the “tech” part of the name. In this case the interpretation seems pretty broad as the only connection I see is that there is video footage meaning technology is used in the evidence. It’s a stretch but it’s there.

IMO these kinds of posts are an offshoot of the issues of filming and photographing police and “sensitive” areas.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The main ‘tech’ connection in articles like this would probably be how technology has leveled the playing field more.

Before cameras and recording devices were commonly used, it was a simple matter of ‘cop vs witnesses(assuming there were any)’ and the cop was almost always taken at their word, even if they had a terrible reputation. With the increasing number of camera-phones and other things that can take videos though, suddenly you’ve got videos(like in this case) where what is being shown, and what was claimed by the police, are very much at odds with each other.

Then of course as an offshoot of that you’ve got stories where police will steal the cameras/recording devices from witnesses/bystanders, in the name of ‘preserving evidence'(evidence which seems to have a shocking tendency to disappear or be corrupted while in police hands funnily enough), or object to being recorded to such a degree that they’ll arrest or harass those doing so(in addition to stealing the device doing the recording).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

no Techdirt has moved on, they are now a full time Government hate site. Anything Government or establishment is not the focus of this hate site.

And BTW: they also use Metadata to engage in censorship to censor any dissenting comments..

But anything to do with hatred of the Government, or the police is fair game now for GovHateSite.com (aka Techdirt)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wow. I’d ask what medication you’re on, but it’s blatantly obvious that you aren’t. Otherwise, you wouldn’t say such obvious bullshit.

1) The officer int his case called up his buddies;
2) There is video evidence of the guy being intentionally threatening towards another person;
3) There are allegations of intimidation and deliberate malfeasance by this particular officer before.

I wouldn’t be inclined to give an officer of the law any leeway in multiple instances of brutality. Once is a mistake, but if you do it again, it’s not a mistake anymore.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Techdirt covers a wide range of subjects, and often focuses more on economics, business, finance and law than the direct tech aspect. This is especially true when non-tech related stories echo concerns voiced in the more tech-focussed stories, especially in the areas of law enforcement and censorship.

That’s the prerogative of the site. It’s not stated anywhere that only directly tech related stories will be covered. If there a tech angle here, it’s that it serves as a reminder that current powers are abused even when the consequences for doing so are injury or death. If those are abused, why would people think that the powers that are being begged for in the more tech-focussed areas won’t be routinely abused?

If you don’t like that kind of story, you can quite easily find Engadget, ArsTechnica and other tech-only sites as easily as you found this one. Or just not be one of those fools who whines that a blog isn’t covering only what you want to read – skip to the next story if this one isn’t to your interests.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If my memory is right this was covered here the first time because the police were intimidating witness to get their cell phone footage. Seemed like the police knew they did wrong and wanted to eliminate the footage created on these technologically advanced phones.

Police ‘stealing’ cell phones, something all tech savoy people have, is certainly relevant to a tech site.

I was pleased to see the follow up to this even tho this follow up is less tech related.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I really, really hope none of the officers involved in this are married or have kids, if they can honestly get on the stand and argue that ‘he was asking for it’ and that it’s the murder victims fault for them beating him to death due to his ‘life choices’, I don’t want to think of how they’d treat their spouses and/or children.

just some guy says:

Good point on relevance of this story.

“About Us” states: Started in 1997 by Floor64 founder Mike Masnick and then growing into a group blogging effort, the Techdirt blog uses a proven economic framework to analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies ability to innovate and grow.

I’m not entirely certain how this story affects a company’s ability to innovate or grow. Still, it’s Mike’s site, he can do what he darn well pleases 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good point on relevance of this story.

wow 15 years, you would think he would of achieved something by now, I guess he is happy in his little rut..

but you would think after 15 odd years, he would have gained a bigger following that the 10 or 15 die hard cultists that hang off his every word.

beats doing a real job too !!!

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Fullerton police officers have become fearless over the years, thanks to the protective powers of the blue line, and the restorative effect of compliant juries.

Compliant? Or intimidated? Seems like the juries’ behavior there is difficult to understand unless the area police have gone so rogue as to be threatening jurors as well as small, weak, mentally-disabled homeless men.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Peer pressure is the most common method of compliance distribution. Buy one idiot, or get them off the fox news message boards, and put them on the jury. In Orange County this works great, every time. Then have them whine and go on like a PTA unit about terrorist this and drugs that and ‘oh my children’. Then the rest of the Orange County PTA units on the jury will follow suit. No one wants to LOOK bad is the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am slowly beginning to think it’s safer with the criminals than with our public servants. Unless the criminal wants something you have he’s not going to mess with you. Obviously that’s not the case with the cops.

You should at this point have more fear of those enforcing the law than those breaking it. And these are the sort of cops that will soon have armored vehicles? What could go wrong?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re much safer with the criminals vs the cops, if for no other reason than you can defend yourself from the first group.

If a ‘regular’ criminal tries to rob or attack you, you can defend yourself, but if a cop does it and you try and defend yourself… hope you enjoy the mace, taser, baton, jail time and assault charges.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s true. Regardless of whether or not the arrest is lawful, resisting even illegal arrest through self-defense will get you a beating, jail, and charges while they are immune to any crimes they have committed. At least if I manage to get a hold of the criminal’s gun in a struggle and shoot him, I can claim self-defense. Shoot a corrupt cop in self-defense and you become a target for his buddies to make your life a living hell. Police are just as much a gang of thugs as the Bloods or the Crips.

Ninja (profile) says:

These cops are not humans. They are monsters. The part of the video when the man starts to call his dad is simply.. Heartbreaking. Any normal human being would have stopped applying more force than needed at that point (in fact way before it reached that point). What’s left to see is if the people judging the case are equally monsters or if justice will be served. I won’t hold my breath.

Anonymous Coward says:

and the police state just gets stronger and stronger! this behaviour by police is spreading. soon, they will just be ‘executing’ people on the street, simply because they know they can get away with it.
what makes it worse, to my mind, is the fact that absolutely nothing is being done to suppress this behaviour on any level

Anonymous Coward says:

So very guilty

When the defense starts victim blaming you just know they’re guilty as sin. They can’t even provide any defense, nor raise any doubt, so they instead just attack the character of the victim.

Most common (or at least infamous) of this can be seen in rape cases. See such disgusting cases as claiming that an 11 year old rape victim was a spider luring men into her web.

Sadly in some cases this despicable tactic is effective.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re:

Actually, the verdict may depend more on their moral/political outlook. Authoritarians may choose to believe Kelly brought it on himself and that, being on the winning side, it won’t happen to them because they’re not like “that guy.”

Those of a more compassionate frame of mind will condemn the brutality.

Like it or not, there are human beings on the jury and they’ll speak as they find. I hope they find brutality, but I remember Rodney King, so pardon me for not holding out a lot of hope for justice to be done.

Anonymous Coward says:

“getting ready to fuck you up,”

Seems to be more than a threat backed up by tons of similar cases around the US.. If any of us were backed into that same corner I’d hope we’d come out swinging in defense of ourselves .. self preservation is not a crime no matter how those in power spin it police are people paid by the people .. taken out of uniform most are self righteous bullies who live to intimidate .. pretty much why I’m against former military personnel becoming LEO’s

ahow628 (profile) says:

Indy cops said the same...

The son of a guy who mowed lawns in our neighborhood was recently shot and killed by police after an alleged car jacking. The police commander made the following statement to the media, “This young man made a bad choice and paid for it with his life.”

I find this sickening that police officers get to make the decision on how that young man was to pay for his crime. That is assuming he even did it since no cop actually witnessed it happening.

If police want the trust and respect of the community, they need to have a 180 attitude adjustment over their role in that community.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The defense attorney argued that Thomas’ death was his own fault, brought on by a “lifetime” of “bad choices.”

Yeah, that really is a stupid argument.

If that argument had any merit whatsoever, it would mean that the fault for every injury or death of a police officer on duty is really their own for choosing a career in law enforcement.

Rekrul says:

The former agent further enraged the defense attorneys by stating that Kelly Thomas had every right to fight back once the officers deployed excessive force.

What world is he living in? Raising a hand to the cops, no matter what the provocation is, right now, the gravest offense that you can commit. You can mow down a whole room of children with an assault rifle and you’ll be treated with more respect than if you lightly put your hand on a cop’s arm.

Anonymous Coward says:

I got into a fight with my Methadone and it damn near beat my ass to death. By that I mean a massive overdose of 700mg trying to off myself. The police came roughed me up because I was so fucking high they could not get me outside. I wasn’t in any pain though lol then I passed out and woke up 313 days older.

Lesson learned about drug abuse – Nope I’m still on 180 and I will be the rest of my life.

Lesson learned about overdosing – use a gun

Lesson learned about the police – they don’t like people who feel better than them so pretend to feel like shit.

deanna arnold says:


Stop the stupid ‘tech’ confusion….if you read the article and your only passion is around the freeeeeking category, then move on…don’t speak…and please don’t do any jury duty, you sick fuck…

These police need to be held accountable. Please, please, please, please, please….do not let them free. It’s so gross that they even attempt a defense!! I hope their wives and children have all STUDIED the video to shatter any sort of ‘hero’ type beliefs.

‘No….Daddy doesn’t waste his time catching those sneaky child molesters. They’re too hard to find and the effort would keep me away from loving you….my sweet darling daughter. So, in order for us to have our special time together, I get rid of the people that society doesn’t like. One less beggar equals my quota and more special time with you, darling’…

How sweet.

Anonymous Coward says:

The other officers involved in the Kelly Thomas incident, Ramos, Cicinelli, and Wolfe, no longer work for the Fullerton Police Department. Former Officers Ramos and Cicinelli are awaiting trial for their actions on the night of July 5, 2011. Ramos is accused of one count of second degree murder and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli is charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of the use of excessive force. The District Attorney has not charged Wolfe.

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