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Kelly Thomas Trial

 
Kelly Thomas Trial

SANTA ANA (CNS) - An FBI expert on use of force testified today that two  former Fullerton police officers on trial for the fatal beating of a mentally  ill homeless man failed to follow proper procedures in their attempts to subdue  the suspect.

John Wilson Jr. was asked to critique the actions of ex-Officer Manuel  Ramos and ex-Cpl. Jay Cicinelli as video of their July 5, 2011, encounter with  Kelly Thomas at the Fullerton Transportation Center was played for jurors.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who questioned Wilson  this morning, was repeatedly interrupted by objections from defense attorneys,  many of which were upheld by Orange County Superior Court William Froeberg. The  attorneys twice met privately with the judge to discuss the line of  questioning.

Cathy Thomas left the room sobbing as video of her son being beaten was  played in the courtroom. One juror could be seen wiping her eyes as the video  was shown.

Wilson testified that he spent 60 hours reviewing numerous documents, as  well as video and digital audio recordings, to prepare for the trial. He was  paid $200 per hour, and $90 for transit while traveling from Virginia to  California.

Wilson testified that eight ``tactical principles'' have been  established for instruction of officers in how to handle encounters with  suspects. The top principle is safety, he said.

The other principles involve gathering intelligence, planning,  communicating with a partner and the suspect, taking cover or hiding,  controlling the situation, making sure officers have superior firepower, and  how to assess and adapt to evolving situations, Wilson testified.

Wilson suggested that when a call came in that someone was trying to  break into cars at the Fullerton Transportation Center -- Thomas was initially  suspected, but cleared of involvement -- the officers should have cruised  through the parking lot to look for clues of thefts from vehicles such as  broken glass or interior lights on in cars. The officers should have also  considered contacting the tipster who called from the nearby Slidebar  nightclub, he said.

Instead, Ramos and ex-Officer Joe Wolfe confronted Thomas because he  matched the description of the suspect. Ramos' uniform and his unholstered  baton presented Thomas with a ``show of force,'' Wilson said.

``The display of a baton is going to put this person into a defensive  position,'' Wilson testified.

Ramos can be seen and heard on the video pestering Thomas to give him  his name, with Thomas offering up sarcastic replies. Both grew more irritated  as the questioning continued.

At one point, Thomas told Ramos, ``Just take me to jail and get it over  with,'' providing a safe moment for the officer to take the transient into  custody, Wilson testified.

``This is a perfect opportunity ... that offers the least amount of  risk,'' he said.

ackauckas also questioned Wilson about Ramos turning away from Thomas  at one point during the encounter. Wilson testified that it's ``dangerous to  turn your back'' on a suspect, especially one who has not been frisked, as was  the case with Thomas.

The exchange between Ramos and Thomas grew more heated after Wolfe went  through the transient's backpack and found letters addressed to an attorney  that the officers suspected -- wrongly as it turned out -- were stolen.

Ramos put on latex gloves, an indication to the suspect that the officer  was going to get physical with Thomas and wanted to avoid bodily fluids,  Wilson testified. When the witness added that it was ``tactically, not a sound  thing to do,'' Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, successfully objected.

When Ramos put his fists up to Thomas, threatening to attack him if the  suspect did not obey his commands, there was no indication that Thomas was  about to be arrested, Wilson said upon questioning by Rackauckas.

After Ramos and Wolfe struck Thomas with their batons as he tried to run  from the officers and had him pinned down, they repeatedly ordered him to put  his hands behind his back and to ``relax,'' with the transient apologizing and  protesting that he cannot comply, according to the video.

Wilson said the ``pain-compliance tactic'' should have been suspended at  that point so officers could see if Thomas would then acquiesce to their  commands, but the officers continued to struggle with him.

``You have to give them an opportunity to respond to it, so you can plan  your next step,'' Wilson said.

Wilson also testified that it was ``not be good proper police  procedure'' for Cicinelli to strike Thomas with the butt of a stun gun.

``Those strikes to the head were in excess of what a reasonable officer  would use to gain control of the situation,'' Wilson said, drawing an objection  from defense attorneys and compelling Froeberg to wipe out the expert's reply  from the court record.

Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter  and Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.

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