SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two Southern California police officers were ordered Wednesday to stand trial in the death of a mentally ill homeless man following a violent arrest last summer.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm made the ruling after a hearing that included surveillance video of the confrontation between the officers and 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the city of Fullerton.
Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault or battery by a public officer. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The officers confronted Thomas while responding to reports that a homeless man was looking into parked cars at a transit center.
"This is another victory, on another battle," said Thomas' father, Ron. "We're going to start a new one with the trial."
John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said he would seek another court's review of Schwarm's ruling and did not expect his client would end up facing a jury trial.
"We're disappointed that they were held to answer but we will seek review in an appropriate manner," he told reporters after the ruling. "He believes, and he is innocent."
A message was left for Michael Schwartz, Cicinelli's attorney, seeking comment on the ruling.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said during the hearing that Ramos' actions — snapping on latex gloves, making a fist and threatening to take on Thomas — would have led anyone to fear they were about to get beaten by police.
"Any person, any creature on this earth would have fear at that point," Rackauckas told the court.
"You're going to fight or flee because this is an imminent threat of a serious beating by a police officer who is there with a baton and a gun and other police officers.... This is going to be a very bad deal," the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys countered that police — who are authorized and trained to use force when necessary — viewed the incident as an encounter with a man who refused to give his name and continued to resist arrest even as multiple officers rushed to assist.
The three-day hearing was marked by repeated showing of clips from surveillance video and audio recordings of the confrontation. The footage includes scenes of officers pummeling and pinning down Thomas as he screams that he can't breathe and moans for his father until he goes silent and is taken away by medics, leaving behind a pool of blood.
Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said during the hearing that the video — which was introduced by the prosecution — shows that his client made a conditional threat during his conversation with Thomas, stating he wanted the man to start listening and following police orders, such as sitting with his legs stretched out and providing his name to officers.