Day One of the prosecution's case against two Fullerton cops accused of using excessive force in 2011 to kill an unarmed homeless man had an eerie resemblance to another trial that landed Orange County in embarrassing international headlines a decade ago.
In Corona del Mar, three young men–including the son of a wealthy, corrupt assistant sheriff–got a 16-year-old girl highly intoxicated and, after she'd fallen unconscious, stripped her before videotaping themselves sexual assaulting her vagina and rectum with a Tree Top Apple Juice can, pool cue, Snapple bottle and lit cigarette.
Defense lawyers put Jane Doe, that victim, on trial and brought in so-called expert witnesses who opined that the girl faked her stupor for the Sony camcorder after asking her assailants to film her in a necrophilia sex scene she could presumably use to enter the Los Angeles porn world.
Today, inside Judge William R. Froeberg's 10th floor courtroom–just beneath the location of the infamous Haidl Gang Rape trial, acclaimed defense lawyers for ex-officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli offered jurors similarly ludicrous stories.
Ramos attorney John Barnett, who also served as a losing defense lawyer in the Haidl case, portrayed victim Kelly Thomas as a menacing physical specimen who scared a large group of towering, fully-armed, veteran cops that chased, surrounded, punched, kicked, restrained, clubbed and shot Taser blasts into the homeless man's relatively small frame for five minutes.
In his part of the courtroom theater, Cicinelli defense lawyer Michael Schwartz admitted cops used force on Thomas but, despite him falling silent during the attack and lying in a huge pool of his own blood, he was medically fine when EMT's put him into an ambulance.
Schwartz also argued that gruesome hospital photographs of Thomas have given the false impression that police were brutal when, he insists, most of the external damage was simply superficial bruising.
But, like the defense line in the Haidl Gang Rape that the victim asked to be raped to start a porn career, Schwartz is asking jurors to declare that Thomas killed himself and police, his close companions during his final minutes alive, neither contributed to the death nor committed any criminal acts.
His line–delivered without cracking a smile–was that an “overexerting,” 37-year-old Thomas beat himself to death by struggling with concerned, compassionate officers.
“His heart couldn't take it,” said Schwartz.
He later added, “A tragedy? Yes. A crime? No. Sometimes tragedies happen in this world.”
Before he finished, Schwartz accused District Attorney Tony Rackauckas of personally manufacturing a case by tampering with key witnesses to alter their stories to fit his prosecution theory of police brutality.
(Both Barnett and Schwartz specialize in representing law enforcement officers accused of committing crimes and are known in Southern California courthouses for their intensity, creativity and steep legal rates.)
At the beginning of the day, Rackauckas–a former superior court judge and Republican activist who has a lengthy track record of defending cops in suspicious shooting cases over the years–told the jury these warped officers took what should have been a minor encounter with Thomas, who wasn't wanted for any serious crime, and unnecessarily killed him.
The trial, which has drawn dozens of journalists and members of the public–many of whom are visibly outraged by the defense tactics, resumes tomorrow in Santa Ana and is expected to last several weeks.
Joseph Wolfe, a third charged Fullerton cop in the Thomas case, will face trial at a later date.
Protesters stood outside of the courthouse holding handmade signs against police brutality.