John D. Barnett Is the Attorney for the Damned

[Moxley Confidential] The veteran criminal-defense lawyer insists his cop client didn't murder Kelly Thomas

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas will fail to convict two Fullerton police officers charged with felonies as a result of the July 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, a 36-year-old, unarmed homeless man.

That's not my guess, but rather the confident prediction of John D. Barnett, the veteran criminal-defense attorney for Manuel Ramos, who is facing a second-degree murder charge.

While it's commonplace for defense lawyers to belittle prosecutors and inflate their own courtroom prowess, Barnett isn't a cheap publicity hound. Indeed, journalists such as myself who've covered his trials quickly learn he's a superb, gentlemanly lawyer who can play hardball when necessary. I haven't always agreed with his interpretations of evidence, but it would be foolish to not pay attention when he speaks. Few, if any, other lawyers in the region understand the minute legal angles that can produce victories from defenses that once seemed impossible.

We recently ran into each other at Orange County's central courthouse, and he politely but firmly lectured me on the media's role in having convinced the public that Ramos is a monster.

"What is reported has a tremendous impact," he said.

True enough: Based on the facts provided by Rackauckas, who says he was disgusted by an unnecessary killing, and the photograph of Thomas' gruesomely battered face after six cops finished with him, I've labeled the police savage killers worthy of public contempt. I've even praised the DA for filing felony charges against Ramos and his colleague, Jay Cicinelli.

But Barnett believes I've reached faulty conclusions based on misinformation.

"It [the Thomas killing] didn't happen the way Mr. Rackauckas said it happened," said Barnett, a Laguna Beach-based lawyer who specializes in defending Southern California police officers accused of wrongdoing. "I think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they learn the facts."

In Barnett's view, the biggest misconceptions involve his client. He thinks Rackauckas erred by giving the impression that Ramos was beating the hell out of Thomas to the very end of the incident. That the DA filed the most serious charge against this cop underscores the notion that he is the most responsible for the death.

But according to Barnett, video evidence proves that none of the final blows to Thomas' head during the later portion of the beating was made by Ramos.

"He was holding his feet," he said.

Two veteran law-enforcement sources familiar with the evidence in the case confirmed Barnett's assertion. Said one of them, "Ramos was nowhere near [Thomas'] head at the end. He's kneeling at his feet. He's exhausted [from the beating], but he's not striking any of the final blows."

If those characterizations are accurate, Barnett—who helped LAPD officer Theodore Briseno win an acquittal in the infamous Rodney King beating that sparked the 1992 LA riots—may have a significant point to argue to a jury.

But Susan Kang Schroeder, the DAs chief of staff, dismisses the angle.

"That's true [that Ramos wasn't beating Thomas at the end]," said Schroeder. "So what? Tony's never said he hit him the whole time. His point is that once you set something criminal in motion, you are responsible for all of the acts."

Barnett isn't claiming that Ramos was a relatively uninvolved participant in the killing of Thomas, an incident that began, according to law-enforcement records, with a telephone complaint about the homeless man to police by an employee at Fullerton's Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen. He acknowledges that Ramos was a key player from the outset, but, he says, the officer used the force necessary to gain control of "a violent, struggling" suspect, who suffered from schizophrenia. Michael D. Schwartz, Cicinelli's defense attorney, supports that argument.

A second Rackauckas error was doctoring Ramos' pre-beating quote, according to Barnett. At his September press conference announcing the arrests of the two cops, the DA won international attention by telling reporters that Ramos slowly put on gloves as he towered over Thomas and said, "See my fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up!"

"That's not what he said," Barnett told me. "What he said was, 'See my fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up if you don't comply or do what I say" [his emphasis].

To the defense lawyer, the additional words make a huge difference because "It's clear that police officers have every right to use force or the threat of force to gain compliance in certain situations," he said. "The evidence will show that Kelly Thomas kept fighting and the officers were surprised by his strength."

Again, Schroeder disputes the defense angle.

"Yeah, Tony didn't give a blow-by-blow of what everybody said during his speech, but we put up [on a screen at the press conference] all the statements. We aren't trying to hide anything."

Barnett's most controversial lines of defense are going to generate intense ridicule among the thousands of people who protested the killing because he will give a future jury an unflattering portrait of Thomas as a man who posed a threat to the cops' safety. He said the victim had a 1995 violence-related conviction, was a thief and—are you ready for a bombshell assertion?—carried a hatchet.

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79 comments
Kanani Fong
Kanani Fong

Well, let's say he did his job, but he's also a liar. He claimed the cops didn't have malice in their hearts, however, this contradicts what Ramos did and said: " Ramos put on latex gloves and then put his fists in Thomas’s face, saying, "see these fists?....They're getting ready to ---- you up." The jury bought whatever this guy said hook, link, and sinker. They were fooled and seduced by an expert liar.

Dos Chinos
Dos Chinos

Why didn't he charge all those cops involved in the beating with murder instead of just 2. I thought they were all responsible for his death. The coroner couldn't say for sure and the DA couldn't prove that the accumulation of excessive force is what killed him? Don't they all sleep together, the cops, the DA, and the coroner?

Patrick Galvin
Patrick Galvin

These jurors probably wanted to vote not guilty all along; they just needed a defense attorney to help them connect the legal dots to their preferred outcome.

Andrew Levy-Neal
Andrew Levy-Neal

it almost had to be related .. the verdicts were too similar and the stories .. just terrible

Steve Calderon
Steve Calderon

Civil lawsuit next, same as O.J. Simpson's trial. Hopefully same outcome as O.J.

Alie Ebert
Alie Ebert

The family can still sue for wrongful death...

Brennan King Cane
Brennan King Cane

Don't blame the lawyer, he's doing his job and apparently did it well. Blame the jury who saw the video, heard the medical testimony and somehow still bought in to his ludicrous claims. It would be interesting to find out how the vote went. They sure didn't take a lot of time deliberating so it probably wasn't even close.

Agnostic Libertarian
Agnostic Libertarian

Police Officer's union $$. The same union that spent all the money to remove the libertarian majority on the Fullerton City Council.

Arlyn Buck
Arlyn Buck

I guess he doesn't have to sell t-shirts anymore. I blame TRack for doing an incompetent job.

Aaron Roach
Aaron Roach

Michelle: I would guess he was paid by the union. I'm pro union, not judging that. Unions often pay for their members' job related legal costs.

Michelle Trail
Michelle Trail

How did Ramos, on a police officer's salary, afforded to hire this guy, anyway? Do you think he was partial pro bono for publicity purposes?

Lawrence
Lawrence

LET ALL THOSE WHO THINK THIS IS PROPER PROCEDURE HAVE THIER WHOLE FAMILIES DONE THIS WAY AND SEE WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY THEN. MAYBE THE LAWYER OUGHT TO GET WHAT THIS POOR MAN GOT AND SEE IF HE WOULD STILL DEFEND THEM IN COURT. " YES YOUR HONOR THESE MEN DID WHAT WAS RIGHT AND I GOT WHAT I DESERVED". PLEASE LET THEM GO NOW. FU ATT AND COPS

Tony Li
Tony Li

man this sick piece of shit lawyer should be charged with assistance with getting away with murder, and general moral depravity. just fucking sick.

Tony Li
Tony Li

He should be charged with abuse of police powers, infringement of civil liberties, taking pleasure in intimidating citizens, general scumbaggery, and deservingness of death by a thousand tasers.

HOA
HOA

The coroner reported that the victim died of his inability to breath. He suffocated because of the pressure applied to his body, against the sidewalk. Not because of a beating to his head, necessarily. If Ramos (who is a big and heavy man) was holding the victim against the cement, he would have murdered him by suffocating him.

Wholetruth2012
Wholetruth2012

The OC DA deserves a best actor award for his dramatics and feigned emotion.  He has sunk to a new low using his power to advance his political ambitions at the expense of two officers who were dealing with a rapidly escalating situation with a person who was known (by his family) to be very violent.  His own mother had a restraining order filed against him.  It is well known that he once physically attacked his grandfather.  His father when contacted by local police would say that he (Kelly) was their problem now.

When Ramos says, "See these fists, They're getting ready to f--- you up," he ALSO says, "iF YOU DON'T F-ING START LISTENING.". Something that the DA likes to omit when miss quoting Ofc. Ramos.Another thing the DA and now the media so conveniently neglect to include is Thomas' response, "START PUNCHING DUDE." Does that sound like someone who is in fear for his life?Even RonThomas admits to using force with Kelly, "Ron once used his jujitsu skills to apprehend his son, wrestling Kelly into his car from a Yorba Linda park using wristlocks. "A lot of things I did with Kelly were very painful. But what are the alternatives?” -Orange Coast Magazine, March 2012

R. Mutt
R. Mutt

Barnett has offended the fraternity of paramedic & emergency medical workers.

John Barnett, his family, members of his law office at the Block in Orange, & all of his allies will NOT be receiving any life-saving medical attention from me or any of my brethren.

So just HOPE and pray you never have a heart attack or crash your Lexus, Barnett.

R. Mutt
R. Mutt

As an Emergency Worker for a major ambulance company, if I ever encountered Mr. John Barnett, his family, staff or any of his allies I WOULD DECLINE TO PROVIDE EMERGENCY CARE because I am afraid to be sued by a shyster like this guy. So listen up Barnett, if you ever crash your white Lexus SC 430 convertible and you are needing CPR, I'm just gonna write "deceased" on the report.

Don
Don

Yikes. Awful.

Khendy74
Khendy74

I'm no expert, but I'm smart enough to know when the poe tell someone to get on the ground, the best thing to do is just do it! I've never see anyone win a confrontation on the street with the police, EVER! A 6 year old ghetto kid will even know this! There is always plenty of time later to complain and go after those that you think may have done something wrong, but that time is not while on the street. The video distrubed me too, but I also know it's near impossible to get some crazed person under control at times without force being applied. The part that disturbs me the most is the cop hitting him in the face with the flash light and later saying he beat the shit out of his face. That bothers me. But even so, I'll wait for the final verdict. Things are not what they always appear and all of this could have been avoided by the guy just doing as he was told and dealing with whatever injustices he felt he had undergone at a later time. All of you should not be so quick to judge. None of us were there and the video, although distrubing at times, doesn't always tell the real story.

ageofknowledge
ageofknowledge

They are using the same defense for these officers as was used for the officers that beat Rodney King. It worked once, so maybe it will work again. It's all B.S., of course, imo.

Prawda
Prawda

BArnett will attack Kelly's credibility, bring up assertions about a hatchet that are lies and paint him as the bad guy. Juries don't like this. Ramos put into action a series of blows that eventually led to kelly's death. Ramos only stopped because he was not physically able to continue to beat him so Cincerelli took over while other officers held the victim down. A human's instinct is to survive. People jumped to their deaths from the world trade center windows instead of being burned to death thinking somehow they would survive. Had the officers stopped beating kelly once he was on the ground he would have stopped fighting, he would not have a reason to resist. Continual punches, kicks and poundings to the face with a metal object and the body resists, it wants to flee.Kelly's strength came from his will to survive. In situations where danger exists and a crowd tries to flee the crowd is told 'don't panic" no choice. The will to live and survive kicks in. They tazered him and expected him to sit still, they pounded his face into the ground and told him to sit still, they kneed him in the face and told him to sit still, they kneeled on his chest and told him to sit still. Beyond a reasonable doubt. Which one of these acts if they were done to you would you be able to withstand without reacting too? Which one could you take and not fight back? Which one? Ramos was holding his legs down and still no cuffs on Kelly. Kelly was dying from lack of oxygen and no medical help was offered. They let him die. Ramos guilty, Cincerelli guilty. Beyond, way beyond, a reasonable doubt.

Bandiniarturo
Bandiniarturo

Hey If KT or me or any of you would have told the cop, 'see these fists...they are about to fuck you up' can you imagine the reaction? Probably brushed under the rug, cop was fearing for his life, KT was schizophrenic, etc . But KT gets no latitude because apparently it's this fat bastard cop's prerogative to hurl the aggression and KT should have submitted to the fat fuck's beatdown.

Prawda
Prawda

My prediction, hung jury first trial, conviction second trial on Ramos when Cincinelli turns states evidence.

Prawda
Prawda

Barnett is trying to contradict what the tape/video is showing. Barnett was not there and neither were we. You can pick apart piece by piece and twist and turn every millasecond but the outcome is the same. Ramos and cincinelli used excessive force and torture. Using a taser repeatedly on anyone and you expect them to sit still? Kneeling and kneeing someone in the face and you expect them to sit still? Pounding an object into a person's face breaking their cheek bone and eye socket and you expect them to stop moving? The more the 6 officers escalated the abuse and torture the more Kelly fought for his life. What would you expect a human being to do?

Prawda
Prawda

To the defense lawyer, the additional words make a huge difference because "It's clear that police officers have every right to use force or the threat of force to gain compliance in certain situations," a quote from the story above.......

Kelly was trying to comply with ridiculous confusing demands by Ramos. It is undoubtedly clear that Ramos's behavior, actions and threats were to pick a fight, get an excuse for a fight. Fullerton PD knew Kelly, Ramos was out of control, beat a man until near death, ignored kelly when the Paramedics arrived. Add it all up, Ramos put into action and caused Kelly's death. Guilty.

Nico
Nico

Barnett Rules watch him work his Magic and the truth shall be revealed.

HughJasol
HughJasol

@Wholetruth2012 So is it ok to beat a person to near death & not render medical aid? Are you ok with physical violence? You must be some kind of law enforcement bully. I used to think the police were here to protect me. I have lost my faith. Not that I ever plan on having contact with any police, but I now fear them. Being a woman, I'm sure if they didn't find a reason to physically abuse me, they'd probably sexually abuse/rape me.

Nanette Valencia
Nanette Valencia

If the killers had left him alone in the first place there would have been no need to "get him under control" His offense? Being mentally ill and an inconvenience. Therefore a disposable person, right?

Wholetruth2012
Wholetruth2012

........."but I also know it's near impossible to get some crazed person under control at times without force being applied"So true even Ron Thomas felt that way:Ron once used his jujitsu skills to apprehend his son, wrestling Kelly into his car from a Yorba Linda park using wristlocks. "A lot of things I did with Kelly were very painful. But what are the alternatives?” -Orange Coast Magazine, March 2012

Wholetruth2012
Wholetruth2012

This is an example of how the media reports only partial truths. When Ramos says, "See these fists, They're getting ready to f--- you up," he ALSO says, "iF YOU DON'T DO WHAT I SAY." Another thing the media so conveniently neglects to include is Thomas' response, "START PUNCHING DUDE." Does that sound like someone who is in fear for his life?

Even RonThomas admits to using force with Kelly, "Ron once used his jujitsu skills to apprehend his son, wrestling Kelly into his car from a Yorba Linda park using wristlocks. A lot of things I did with Kelly were very painful. But what are the alternatives?” -Orange Coast Magazine, March 2012

Wholetruth2012
Wholetruth2012

My prediction: You will eat your words with some fava beans and a nice Chianti when BOTH officers are found NOT GUILTY.

Nanette Valencia
Nanette Valencia

Ramos clearly was trying to antagonize Kelly. He knew Kelly was ill and still expected him to "comply". Would he have asked a cripple to get up and dance? People like you who don't understand illness are the reason why crimes like this happen. Kelly did nothing wrong, he should not have been harrassed in the first place. Want the truth? Here's a man who tells the truth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqXJOpdjnX0&feature=related

 
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