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.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.
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 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.Lekawa also added this damning statement:
"I've never seen a survivor, ever, in my 18 years," he said.
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.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.
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.