SANTA ANA, California (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberating on Thursday in the trial of two former California policemen charged in the 2011 beating death of a mentally ill homeless man, an incident that touched off protests and political upheaval in the Los Angeles suburb of Fullerton.
Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg turned the case over to the jury after instructing them on the law in the month-long, high-profile trial of former Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli.
Ramos, 39, is charged second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the case, while Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.
Prosecutors say the officers approached Kelly Thomas near a bus depot on the night of July 5, 2011 to question him about reports of vandalized cars, then turned the routine police encounter into a savage beating that killed the unarmed transient.
A surveillance camera at the bus station captured the confrontation. The video sparked angry protests in Fullerton, some 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and resulted in the ouster of three city councilmen in a recall election.
Defense attorneys argued that Thomas, 37, was dangerous and resisted arrest and that the officers responded according to their training.
During his final summation in the case earlier on Thursday, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas urged the jury to convict both men, saying “Good officers don’t act in the manner depicted in this case.”
He also referred again to a moment captured on video when Ramos is seen strapping gloves on his hands, balling them into fists in Thomas’s face and telling the transient, whom he knew from previous encounters: “You see these fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up.”
An attorney for Ramos, John Barnett, dismissed that remark as sarcasm during his closing statement, telling jurors it wasn’t meant to be taken literally.
If convicted, Ramos could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison. Cicinelli faces up to four years behind bars if he is found guilty.
Former Fullerton police officer Thomas Wolfe was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the case last September and is awaiting trial. Three other officers involved in the confrontation with Thomas have not been charged.
In 2012, Fullerton’s acting chief of police posthumously exonerated Thomas of any wrongdoing in connection with the confrontation, saying he was cleared of any suspicion that he provoked the violent struggle that led to his death.
The city has also agreed to pay $1 million to Thomas’s mother in a negotiated settlement of any claims she might have brought in her son’s death. Thomas’s father filed a separate lawsuit on the one-year anniversary of the beating.
Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio