Fullerton Police 'Use Of Force' Trainer Says No Policies Violated During Beating Death Of Kelly Thomas

from the by-the-book-manslaughter dept

More expert witnesses have been called in to testify in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The defense called in its two final witnesses late last week — Cpl. Stephen Rubio, a “use of force” trainer for the Fullerton PD, and Dr. Stephen Karch, a forensic pathologist.

Rubio’s takeaway from the 33-minute video showing homeless man Kelly Thomas being restrained and beaten by six Fullerton police officers?

“In the video, all things considered, I don’t see anything out of policy,” Rubio said.

Among the things that failed to fall outside of the Fullerton PD’s use of force policy are Officer Cicinelli repeatedly striking Thomas in the face with the butt of his Taser and Officer Ramos announcing that he was “getting ready to fuck [Thomas] up.”

As for the first non-violation of policy? Apparently if your Taser is not “effective,” you can just turn it into a blunt-force weapon.

[R]ubio said the Taser that Cicinelli used on Thomas wasn’t working correctly because Thomas continued to fight and the device made a noise that indicated it was being “ineffective…”

Officers, he said, are allowed to improvise with their weapons, though they aren’t trained to use a Taser as an impact weapon.

So, officers aren’t trained to improvise with their Tasers but somehow Cicinelli’s freelancing isn’t a violation of policy. Then there’s this marvel of a sentence.

Strikes to the head and face can be dangerous depending on what items are used, how hard they land and where they hit the suspect, Rubio said.

When an expert witness paraphrases the obvious and offers it up as testimony, it’s time to dismiss them from the stand. Rubio’s saying what everyone knows, including the defense. Smashing people in the face does tons of damage, most of which has incredibly deleterious effects on the beaten person’s health. In contrast, a former FBI agent testifying for the prosecution referred to Cicnelli’s “improvisation” as the use of “deadly force.” And yet, somehow this still falls within the flexible parameters of Fullerton PD’s “use of force” policy.

As does this:

Defense attorneys also asked Rubio about a part in the video in which Ramos put on white latex gloves and tells Thomas, “See these fists? … They’re getting ready to f— you up.”

John Barnett, who is representing Ramos, asked Rubio if his client’s words were consistent with his training.

“Yes, it was a conditional threat,” Rubio said. “The profanity may be off-color and may be a slight policy violation.”

Still the use of words, even profane ones, as a means to avoid endangering an officer or suspect is acceptable, Rubio said.

So, the swearing was the only problem. Other than that, threatening someone with violence is completely “by the book” for the Fullerton PD. “Conditional threats?” Perfectly fine. (Not that Ramos’ threat was conditional…) Just don’t swear. “Please hand me your license and registration or I’ll beat you with the butt end of my Taser.” “If you don’t place your hands behind your head, I’m going to hit you with every non-lethal weapon I have in my arsenal.” “If you make me get a warrant, I’m going to rip your house apart and kill your pets.” All by the book.

After damaging the reputation of the Fullerton PD (“threats are cool, as are improvised beatings”) in hopes of redeeming two bad cops, the defense turned to another medical expert, one who followed the post-beating-death script to the letter. Beatings don’t kill people. Drugs (and bad hearts) do.

Dr. Steven Karch, the final witness for two former city police officers charged with killing Kelly Thomas, said the homeless man suffered from methamphetamine cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart caused by drug abuse.

“He could have died sitting in a closet by himself,” Karch said.

Could have. But didn’t.

Thomas died five days after lapsing into an irreversible coma — a coma he lapsed into while being beaten and restrained by six Fullerton police officers. All else being equal, I’m sure he would have preferred dying alone in a closet, rather than being beaten to death.

Karch, like many other coroners and pathologists before him, blamed the dead man for instigating his own death.

[K]arch said Thomas’ clash with police was “precipitated” by a spontaneous psychotic episode brought on by past meth use.

Karch stands alone on this, contradicting both the Orange County coroner and UC Irvine trauma surgeon, who each determined Thomas had died from a lack of oxygen to the brain precipitated by chest compression and multiple injuries to the face.

According to Karch, there’s only one person who truly knows why Kelly Thomas died.

Karch wouldn’t say whether Thomas’ fight with police on July 5, 2011, caused his heart to fail but said it could be a possibility.

“I would suspect that the added stress of this fight or physical altercation would make it worse,” Karch said.

“So you’re not saying he was destined to die on that particular day and the police just happened to be there?” Rackauckas said.

“Only God can say that,” Karch said.

Nice. Too bad The Almighty can’t be tapped to testify. According to toxicology reports, Thomas had no drugs or alcohol in his system on the night he died, but this fact matters little to those who see every beating death as the inevitable end to a drug “abuser’s” life. If the cops don’t get to him first, Thomas dies from heart complications — maybe that same night, maybe 20 years later. Six on one side, half-dozen on the other.

Karch really had to stretch to make this theory fit a 135-lb. homeless man with no drugs in his system.

Thomas, he said, appeared to have had a psychotic episode the night he clashed with police, because only someone with “some kind of mental malfunction” would take on six police officers.

The strength it would take to fight with half a dozen police officers would normally be difficult to gather, but would be easy under a meth-induced psychotic episode, he said.

Except, of course, there was no meth in Thomas’ system. What then?

[P]eople who habitually use meth can still be affected years later by the drug, suffering from such things as a weak heart and spontaneous psychotic episodes, Karch said.

So, if you’ve used drugs even once in your life (or have been arrested for possession), prepare to have that held against you by those attempting to brush aside accusations of brutality. No drugs in your system? Must just be some bad flashbacks. “Yeah, the perp fought hard, like a psycho. We needed six officers just to keep him restrained. Found out he used meth regularly up until 1995. No wonder he was such a monster NEARLY 20 YEARS LATER.”

There’s nothing facetious about this scenario.

A doctor who prepared a report on Thomas after he attacked his grandfather in 1995 with a fireplace poker wrote that Thomas told him he used methamphetamine and did “a lot” of LSD up until 1994.

No drugs in his system. It doesn’t mean Thomas hadn’t used meth recently, but it does mean he hadn’t used any in a rather long period of time — long enough that its traces had vanished from his system. And yet, the defense paints a portrait of a psychotic, amped up on drug flashbacks, overpowering six police officers who outweighed him by at least at 10-to-1 ratio. A psychotic who died of a preexisting heart condition no less, despite the fact his face resembled a tenderized side of beef by the time his comatose body arrived at the trauma center.

No one would expect the defense team to do any less in order to spring its clients, but the justifications and theories are old hat. They’ve been deployed by countless law enforcement agencies in the past. But they have to sway a jury this time, not just placate pesky members of the press. We’ll see how that goes.

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Comments on “Fullerton Police 'Use Of Force' Trainer Says No Policies Violated During Beating Death Of Kelly Thomas”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh that's /so/ conforting...

I’m kinda surprised they defended this. When the inevitable wrongful death lawsuit is filed, the best defense for the department would have been to say the officers were acting on their own. But they’re now on record as saying the officers were acting exactly as instructed by the department.

On the other hand, that “best defense” would apparently have been a lie (unless their current position is a lie) so maybe they’re better off this way.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They did get acquitted in the first trial. What do you think caused the riots? Then they pulled some illegal federal double jeopardy shit and charged the four of them with violating King’s civil rights and two were convicted. It’s unconstitutional to be tried again for a crime that you have been acquitted of but even then only two went to jail.

Just Sayin' says:

Nice story, but...

Boiled down, the homeless guy was fighting back and resisting officers, even with 6 officers trying to restrain him. You and the courts cannot ignore that someone would have to be more than a little bit disconnected from reality to keep fighting at that point.

I feel for the police, they have a crap job and get their lives endangered by mentally deranged people, and then have to explain when one of them drops dead. Not very much win here, you can understand why many police forcefully ignore the homeless because the risk of doing their jobs and dealing with them is too high.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m surprised they aren’t trying to pretend he’s a terrorist. That’s the usual “Get Out Of Responsibility For Your Actions Free card” nowadays. The NSA could easily look up dozens of random coincidences for them.

“He got his hair cut at the same place as a suspected terrorist’s brother.”
“He usually went shopping at the same time at the same store as a suspected terrorist’s son’s sister-in-law.”
“He once took a taxi that had previously been taken by a suspected terrorist’s next door neighbor.”
“Three of his Facebook friends are friends with people who are friends with terrorist suspects.”

They could spend hours, or even days, proving repeatedly that Kelly Thomas lived on the same planet as terrorists. After all, they’re not trying to reveal the truth or see justice done; they’re trying to convince a jury that police should be allowed to beat random people to death.

Anonymous Coward says:

[K]arch said Thomas’ clash with police was “precipitated” by a spontaneous psychotic episode brought on by past meth use.
Karch stands alone on this, contradicting both the Orange County coroner and UC Irvine trauma surgeon, who each determined Thomas had died from a lack of oxygen to the brain precipitated by chest compression and multiple injuries to the face.

Got to call you out on this, Tim. You’ve got a quote talking about the “clash” and then you make comment about how the victim died. The section you quote doesn’t reason why the victim died, it reasons why he clashed with police.

David says:

Re: Within Policy

“all things considered, I don?t see anything out of policy”

Anybody care to tell me what Neonazis in America think they are fighting for? To me, it seems like the current regime got all bases covered.

You’d need masks and props, but other than that, you could just do a documentary about the rise of fascism right in the U.S.A.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Within Policy

I imagine the ‘things considered’ was something like this:

‘Well if I call them out for murdering that guy, I’m likely to get booted or harassed out of the department. Not to mention it would sure be nice to have the blue wall of silence on my side if I ever felt like beating the crap out of someone or breaking some law…’

Anonymous Coward says:

i wouldn’t mind betting the cops get off. the reason being, no one gives a fuck about a homeless ex junky or anyone else until it’s a member of their family or a friend. then, unfortunately, because the jury didn’t have the balls to do the right thing and find these ‘police officers, these look after all members of the public police officers’ guilty of at least man slaughter!

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Re: OK, let me Godwin this thread right now...:

Oops. (Me too, I’ll blame the cold.) To continue:

“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? Rubio said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Josef) Dietrich said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Alberto) Villar said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Jo?o Augusto) da Rosa said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Manuel) Contreras said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Jos? L?pez) Rega said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Marco) Mancini said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Billy) Joya said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Efrain Rios) Montt said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Hermann) Georing said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? (Teymur) Bakhtiar said.”
“..I don?t see anything out of policy,? …

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Pisses me off that good cops are vilified because of thugs like these when they do use a justifiable amount of force on some who resists and is actually whacked out on PCP or meth or drunk or even just too large and strong. Nothing about this guy fits that description. He was not on drugs and only weighed 135 pounds and did not appear to be offering much resistance. If you watch Cops regularly you will see that sometimes it does sometimes take more than one cop to subdue a suspect when they resist.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As much as it sucks for the ‘good cops’, in a very real sense it’s their own fault when blame for stuff like this is applied to all of them, as if they’d done their job and kept such psycho’s in check and off the force, rather than protecting them by looking the other way, people would probably be willing to cut them some slack.

I mean for crying out loud, when you’ve got someone from the police claiming that beating someone to death doesn’t violate any of their policies regarding use of force, that’s pretty much a straight up admission that murder isn’t against the rules for them, as long as they can find some justification for it(‘he had a weak heart’ seems to be the go-to excuse these days).

If the ‘good cops’ don’t want to get painted with the same brush thugs like this are, then a good first step would be to start policing and paying attention to their own people, not just those without a badge.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Seems like when news like this comes out it turns out that the corruption goes well up the chain of command like in past years in Los Angeles. I have like in the Wichita KS. for most my life and I have never seen abuse like tolerated or defended by our police department. A few who have stepped over the line faced the consequences even prosecution. I have also seen cops here who acted properly be criticized. A while back an incident was caught on surveillance cameras where a burglary suspect fired a shot at an officer and instead of firing back the continued the pursuit and only when the perp turned around and pointed his gun the and ignored commands to drop the weapon the cop fired and shot and killed him. Even though he gave this guy every chance some criticized him for not shooting him in the leg or something. All police are trained to shoot center of mass when faced with imminent danger to themselves or others.

DOlz (profile) says:

Learn what words mean before using

“Defense attorneys also asked Rubio about a part in the video in which Ramos put on white latex gloves and tells Thomas, ?See these fists? … They?re getting ready to f— you up.?

John Barnett, who is representing Ramos, asked Rubio if his client?s words were consistent with his training.

?Yes, it was a conditional threat,? Rubio said. ?The profanity may be off-color and may be a slight policy violation.? “

To be conditional there would have to have been some critia meet before the action took place. This was a promise of violence (fulfilled) plan and simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think we’ll soon be seeing US Citizens so afraid of the Law Enforcement ,that It will be shoot first .. honestly when people feel backed into a corner with no protections from the courts or the system I see these bad LEO’s making targets of all their fellow Officers I don’t condone violence usually I feel we are a truly brilliant species .. but every action deserves a formidable response ..especially when it comes to self preservation .

Nobody Important says:

Enough is Enough

I understand that the police have a job to do. I believe that the police DO keep random violence from being perpetrated on civilians.

However, as a martial artist with over 17 years experience & 3 black belts, credentials in physical security for the last 7 years, & considering myself a “normal human” I see no reason that any security group, including police officers, need to use egregious force against an individual. While training we learn to avoid physical conflict at all costs & when we have to engage in violent conflict use the minimal amount of force required to get the job done. One officer having a bit of a problem dealing with an individual can happen, which is why we work in teams (even if they are 135 pounds humans are pretty dangerous animals). 2 officers should be able to at least restrain & subdue a single individual long enough to avoid “injury to themselves & others” without serious violence. 6 officers should have had the Kelly Thomas “packaged & ready for shipment” within 5 minutes with minimal force. Maybe I’m out of touch but it takes me about 15 seconds to cuff a person (using steel cuffs – zip ties are SO much easier).

I get that people’s lives are at stake; however, I don’t believe that the life of an officer is in any way more superior to the life of a “civilian”. Physical security professionals are paid (pretty well, I might add) to put themselves in harms way in order to protect life, not oppress the disadvantaged. I feel ABSOLUTELY NO SYMPATHY for any officer that wants to claim they weren’t prepared for the situation – you signed up for a dangerous job KNOWING it was a dangerous job. Claiming that you were “outgunned” &/or “weren’t prepared/trained to handle this level of conflict” is completely disingenuous. If you signed up for the job you’d better be ready to do it.

Then, for anyone to say it’s not “anything out of policy” to spend 35 minutes subduing an individual & in the process killing him is COMPLETE CRAP. When you have to hide behind policy to excuse the loss of humanity & common sense you have completely lost the end goal. There is no reason that all of the officers involved should not be convicted of both felonious assault & premeditated murder.

Sorry about the rant guys.

Nobody Important

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