Two Fullerton, Calif., police officers are in court today for a preliminary hearing that will determine whether there is enough evidence for them to stand trial on murder and manslaughter charges in the beating death of a homeless man that was caught on video.
Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old mentally ill homeless man. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for the officers have questioned whether medical treatment, not the actual beating, could have resulted in Thomas' death.
The July 5, 2011, surveillance video from a publicly mounted camera, which was coupled with an audio recording device worn by an officer, stunned a packed courtroom of Thomas' supporters when it was shown for the first time Monday.
"I can't breathe man" and "sorry" Thomas can be heard telling officers as he allegedly endured punches to his left ribs and blows to his face from an officer's knee. The man, who is reportedly schizophrenic, repeatedly cried out for his father.
He was also Tasered three times with the stun gun applied directly to his skin for five-second periods. He was hit a fourth time with two darts connected to the gun by wires, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office. The entire time he can be heard screaming in agony.
The beating lasted nine minutes and 40 seconds and ended with Thomas' limp body in handcuffs.
He was transported to St. Jude for intubation to help him breathe. He never regained consciousness.
Five days later, Thomas died. The coroner's office ruled the death a homicide.
"You have 1,500 pounds of trained cop on my one little son, but they have to bring this out like they were just so overpowered by this brute to make themselves look innocent and that they're the victims," Ron Thomas, the victim's father, said outside of court Monday.
The officers responded to the Fullerton Transportation center after receiving a call that a homeless man was seen looking into car windows and pulling on door handles.
Six officers arrived at the scene for back-up, but the district attorney determined that there was only enough evidence to charge Ramos and Cicinelli in Thomas' death.
The video began with Ramos approaching Thomas and asking him to sit with his legs and hands in front of him. Thomas had trouble complying with the order and appeared to have cognitive difficulties, according to the DA's office.
Fed up, Ramos makes fists and asks Thomas if he sees them. Thomas replies that he does.
"They're getting ready to f--- you up," Ramos told him.
When a shirtless Thomas, who had earlier forgotten his name and said he didn't speak English, stood up, Ramos and his partner swung at him with their batons.
Thomas took off and was tackled, setting off the nearly 10-minute beating that allegedly led to his death.
Ramos, who is a 10-year veteran of the force, is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter.
Cicinelli, who has been an officer in Fullerton for 12 years, is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of use of excessive force.
The video ended with paramedics carrying Thomas' lifeless body to an ambulance, revealing a large blood stain on the spot where the altercation took place.
"We ran out of options so I got the end of my Taser and I probably ... I just start smashing his face to hell," Cicinelli said at the end of the July 5 video, according to the transcript provided by prosecutors to the Associated Press. "He was on something. Cause the three of us couldn't even control him."
Thomas had no illicit drugs or alcohol in him at the time of the incident, according to the toxicology report.
If convicted,Cicinelli could face a maximum sentence of four years in prison and Ramos could be sentenced to life in prison.