UCI Trauma Surgeon Agrees With Coroner & DA: Fullerton Cops Beat Kelly Thomas To Death
Courtroom image of the blood-stained Taser gun Fullerton police officers used to "smash" Kelly Thomas' face "to hell"
Media pool photograph by The Orange County Register
During Tuesday's testimony in the Kelly Thomas murder trial, a veteran UCI trauma surgeon told jurors that police broke numerous bones in the unarmed, homeless man's face and ribs, caused massive bleeding, ignored his cries for help and deprived him of critical oxygen for so long that he ultimately fell unconscious and brain dead.
"My opinion is that during the altercation the patient became hypoxic," said Dr. Michael Lekawa, whose expert opinion matches one held by the coroner as well as District Attorney Tony Rackauckas following the autopsy. "There was an inadequate supply of oxygen to [Thomas'] brain."
That medical observation is, of course, apparent to anyone who objectively reviews the surveillance footage and audio recordings of the unnecessary police attack on the night of July 5, 2011 at the Fullerton Transportation Center.
But John Barnett and Michael Schwartz, criminal defense lawyers for two of the cops charged in the killing, continue to live in a self-induced, self-serving fantasy where there is, they insist, zero chance that a brutal, seven-minute beating by a group of five cops caused the untimely death.
Instead, the defense team wants jurors, reporters and the public to ignore overwhelming prosecution evidence and buy one or two alternative theories concocted for the officers to avoid responsibility.
First, the defense has implied paramedics may have accidentally killed Thomas during life saving measures in the ambulance as they hauled the victim's battered, blood-covered and unconscious body away from the scene.
Or, alternatively, they say Thomas killed himself by "overexerting" his 37-year-old heart when, get a load of this whopper, he assaulted the officers.
It's common knowledge that Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe, the initial two cops on the scene, watched the surveillance recordings after the beating but before they wrote their incident reports.
Yet, even with that cheating, they still couldn't manage to tell a coherent, matching tale that would successfully cast Thomas as the aggressor deserving of the horrific beating.
Here's Wolfe's official account of what happened after Ramos threatened to "fuck up" the schizophrenic Thomas with his fists: "I swung my baton at Thomas' left leg, striking him on his left leg. My baton strike had no affect on Thomas and he began backing away for us. I was in fear he was going to run away from us so I ran around to the back of my patrol vehicle, approximately 10-15 feet from where we initially contacted him. When I met him with him at the rear of my patrol vehicle he swung his fist violently at me, striking me once on my forehead. I grabbed Thomas around his midsection, lifted him up and we fell to the ground."
Here's Ramos' divergent story after the two cops struck Thomas with their batons: "[Thomas] turned and ran southbound away from me. I pursued Thomas. After running approximately 20 feet, Thomas turned and faced me. He again took a fighting stance and attempted to strike (punch) me with his left fist. I was able to avoid the strike and prepared to strike him a second time with my baton. At this point, I saw Officer Wolfe attempt to tackle Thomas."
In Wolfe's version, Thomas didn't take a swing at Ramos; the homeless man supposedly managed to hit him in the face--even though the officer held a baton.
In Ramos' version, Thomas didn't punch Wolfe; Thomas allegedly punched at him.
The surveillance video doesn't support either cop's claim because the action occurred off screen, a fact that officers knew as they devised their accounts.
The video proves that only 12 seconds lapsed between the time the officers ran out of view of the camera and they pummeled Thomas so violently that he began pleading for the beating to stop, calling for help from his dad and complaining he couldn't breathe.
After beating Thomas unconscious with a flurry of baton strikes, stomps, punches, kicks and Tasing, officers stood over the body for nearly four minutes without rendering any first aid and Corporal Jay Cicinelli bragged that he "smashed [Thomas'] face to hell" with the butt of his Taser gun.
Was that delay in treatment possibly critical?
In the Glascow Coma Scale, a seven is wide awake and alert. A three score means no brain activity.
According to Dr. Lekawa, Thomas' eyes were looking in different directions and he was brain dead from the time he arrived at the hospital.
The fatal injuries were a result of "how long he'd been without an adequate oxygen supply," he testified.
(Officers Ramos and Cicinelli are in trial in the present case; Wolfe is scheduled to face a jury at a later date.)
Though the trial is expected to last into January, Rackauckas' prosecution team (the DA, Jim Tanizaki and Keith Bogardus) expects to rest today inside Orange County's central courthouse in Santa Ana.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.