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Doctor: Chest compression led to CA homeless death

Associated Press Modified: May 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm •  Published: May 9, 2012

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Kelly Thomas' body lay on the table in the coroner's office, his closed eyes dark purple, his left arm and side covered with bruises — some that a pathologist said stemmed from a violent confrontation with police officers just five days before.

The 37-year-old homeless man died from facial injuries, including blood in his nose, and mechanical compression to his chest that made it difficult for him to breathe and deprived his brain of vital oxygen, said Dr. Aruna Singhania, a forensic pathologist for Orange County.

Singhania said she reached her conclusion after performing an autopsy, reviewing medical records and tests and watching surveillance audio and video of a group of police officers pummeling and pinning down the man as he screamed.

"The body is one, so they are all combined together," Singhania said of her findings. She also said Thomas had pneumonia, apparently stemming from his being on a respirator after the incident.

The doctor's testimony came on the second day of a preliminary hearing in a Santa Ana courtroom to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for two Fullerton police officers involved in the incident to stand trial for killing Thomas.

Prosecutors concluded presentation of testimony Wednesday and several hours of closing arguments were expected before the judge's ruling.

Prosecutors say the July 5 incident began after officers responded to reports that a homeless person was looking in cars and rattling door handles at the city's transit hub, where numerous buses come and go and commuters park their cars.

Prosecutors contend that Officer Manuel Ramos pulled on latex gloves and threatened Thomas before punching him in the ribs and tackling him to pin him down. They say Cpl. Jay Cicinelli used a Taser four times on Thomas as he hollered in pain and also hit him in the face eight times with the Taser.

Thomas lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital. He was taken off life support and died five days later.

Ramos, a 10-year-veteran of the Fullerton Police Department, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, who has worked in Fullerton since 1999, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. Both have pleaded not guilty.

On Tuesday, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas showed graphic photos from Thomas' autopsy that showed sutured wounds on his face, a bloodied eye and multiple bruises on his body.

Defense attorneys grilled Singhania and a trauma surgeon in an apparent effort to cast doubt on prosecutors' allegation that Thomas' breathing problems were caused by the confrontation.

They asked Dr. Michael Lekawa, chief of trauma surgery at University of California, Irvine, Medical Center whether sufficient compression took place during the struggle to cause respiratory arrest and whether cardiac arrest — triggered by extreme exertion — might have deprived Thomas' brain of oxygen.

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