September 26, 2011 | 11:19am
At the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana this morning, Fullerton policeman Manuel Ramos wore a yellow jumpsuit and sat behind a metal mesh wall separating him from everyone else in the courtroom -- including Kelly Thomas' relatives and several members of his own family.
As his attorney, John Barnett, walked up to him, Ramos smiled, and the two spoke for a few minutes.
Once Judge Erick Larsh entered the chambers, Barnett entered a not guilty plea on Ramos' behalf. Then, Barnett asked the judge to set Ramos' $1 million bail at a "more reasonable" amount.
"I don't believe there's any issue of dangerousness," Barnett said of Ramos, before telling Larsh he didn't think there was any flight risk. He cited Ramos' family's longtime ties in the area and his three young sons as reasons it's unlikely he would flee. "He's served the community," Barnett said. "I think there's no danger to the community by releasing my client."
When asked his thoughts on the bail, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas,
who is currently the lead prosecutor on the case, deferred to Ron Thomas
, Kelly's father.
"I am, in fact, afraid for my life if this man gets out," Thomas said, adding that he thinks Ramos does have a high flight risk. "With the police union posting his bail, he has nothing to lose."
Barnett responded by saying, again, that he didn't think Ramos was dangerous. He did, however, call Kelly Thomas a "violent felon," because of an assault with a deadly weapon charge from the past. Barnett also mentioned that Thomas' mother sought a restraining order against him. "She needed the police to help," Barnett said. Thomas' family earlier told the Weekly they only filed the restraining order to try to get Kelly mental help.
Rackauckas said there was no indication that Ramos knew of Thomas' history with law enforcement before he beat him, adding that the incident happened almost two decades ago.
Judge Larsh denied the request to reduce bail, saying the court thought $1 million was an appropriate amount. Ramos's pre-trial hearing is slated for Nov. 4, which is also when Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who faces manslaughter charges in the case, has his hearing.
After they left the courtroom, Barnett led a group of Ramos' relatives to the courthouse cafeteria, where he spoke to them for a few minutes before holding a brief press conference. Barnett defended his client's innocence. "My client's reaction was within policy and certainly not a crime." When asked about Ramos telling Thomas that he planned to "f--- him up" with his fists, Barnett said, "That's simply a way of seeking to get Kelly Thomas to do what he was supposed to do, which is comply."
After Barnett, Rackauckas, too, held a brief press conference. He called Barnett a "good attorney with a lot of talent," but said he was confident in the case, adding that he expects it to go to trial and hopes to have it tried within a year.
Rackauckas also addressed a question regarding Ramos' mental status. He heard from his investigators, he says, that Ramos had been on suicide watch for a couple of days while in custody. When asked about the suicide watch or any potential death threats against his client, Barnett said he wasn't going to comment.
Ron Thomas said he understands it's Barnett's job to make his son look bad, but added that some of the statements the attorney made in court today were simply not true. Thomas noted that Barnett's comment that the family feared Kelly, for example, wasn't true. "He's probably working for the Fullerton Police Department with all the lies."