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Witness: Officers were in disbelief about fight with Calif homeless man who died from injuries
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) ' A forensic specialist testified Monday that two police officers charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man appeared in disbelief after their confrontation with the man they said refused to stop fighting.
Officer Manuel Ramos was holding his rib cage and out of breath after the incident in July, police forensic specialist Dawn Scruggs said. Ramos told her he had never had anyone fight him like that before, she said.
"He looked like he was in disbelief of what just happened," Scruggs said during a preliminary hearing being held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to have the officers stand trial.
Ramos and Cpl Jay Cicinelli are charged with the death of 37-year old Kelly Thomas in the case that spawned a federal civil rights probe and fueled weeks of protests by Fullerton residents..
The incident occurred during an investigation of reported car burglaries at a transit hub where numerous buses come and go and commuters park in the Orange County city of Fullerton.
Scruggs said Cicinelli was tired as well when she arrived.
"He was in awe, like oh my God, I can't believe this," she said. "This guy just would not stop fighting."
Prosecutors also showed the court a slideshow of officers' cuts and bruises and of Thomas' blood-soaked face and closed purpled eyes after the confrontation.
Ramos is accused of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the July 2011 death of Thomas. Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. Both have pleaded not guilty.
A bus surveillance tape previously showed agitated witnesses describing how officers beat Thomas and used a stun gun on him repeatedly as he cried out for his father.
A cell phone video taken from a distance was posted online after the incident. Authorities have said city surveillance cameras also captured footage, but it hasn't been made public.
John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, said he expected prosecutors would show video footage of the incident at the hearing but did not believe it would constitute sufficient evidence to try the officers on homicide charges.
"The conduct was appropriate given the circumstances that no excessive force was used and that officer Ramos was doing not only what he is permitted to do, but what he is required to do," Barnett said.
A message left for Cicinelli's attorney Michael Schwartz was not returned.
The FBI launched an investigation shortly after the July 5, 2011, incident to determine if Thomas' civil rights were violated. That probe is ongoing.
Prosecutors say the beating began after two officers responded to reports that a homeless person was looking in cars and rattling door handles.
The officers stopped Thomas and searched his backpack and asked him to sit on the curb. But the shirtless man, who suffered from schizophrenia, had trouble complying, prosecutors said, at which point Ramos put on a pair of latex gloves, leaned down and threatened him with his fists.
At that moment, what began as a fairly routine police investigation turned into a beating, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say Ramos, a 10-year veteran, punched Thomas in the ribs, tackled him and lay on him to pin him down. They say Cicinelli, a 12-year-veteran of the force who arrived on the scene later, used a Taser four times on Thomas as he screamed in pain and also hit him in the face eight times with the Taser.
Thomas lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. He was taken off life support and died five days later.
The coroner concluded that Thomas died from mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for him to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen. Other face and head injuries contributed to his death, prosecutors said.
Six Fullerton police officers responded to the incident. All were placed on paid administrative leave and are facing an internal investigation but only Ramos and Cicinelli were criminally charged.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last as long as two days, said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County district attorney's office.