Lawyer: Audio Tape Puts Police Beating in Different Context

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John Barnett, defense lawyer for one Fullerton police officer charged in the death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas, said Tuesday a new audio tape turned over by the District Attorney’s office puts video of the police beating into a context that is more favorable to his client.

The audio captures Officer Manuel Ramos “having a very positive interaction with another homeless person” moments before the violent fight with the 37-year-old Thomas, Barnett said at a hearing in Orange County Superior Court.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged Ramos with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, another of the six officers involved in the beating, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force. The other four officers were not charged.

Barnett said the audio should have been incorporated into the video produced by the Orange County District Attorney’s office that synced other police audio with footage of Thomas being beaten and suffocated on July 5, 2011, at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

Thomas was unarmed, there were no drugs or alcohol in his system and the coroner ruled that his death five days after the beating was the result of suffocation and injuries to his head that caused blood to drain into his lungs.

Barnett said the new audio bolsters his arguments that the charges against Ramos should be dismissed. It’s a “broader, larger context,” said Barnett. “I’m very happy” with what the audio contributes to the defense, he said.

The arraignthe ments of both Ramos and Cicinelli were scheduled for Tuesday, but at Barnett’s request, Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm postponed arraignments until July 13.

Barnett told Schwarm that several weeks ago the DA’s office turned over 6,000 digital audio recordings going back to 2008 The recording were made by devices officers wear on their belts.

The recordings captures the words exchanged between the six officers involved in the Thomas case and members of the public in other encounters.

Barnett didn’t accuse the DA’s office of deliberately withholding anything, saying “I believe the prosecution is giving us everything that they have.”

Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki said defense lawyers didn’t get the Ramos audio section earlier because of an “unintentional” oversight by the Fullerton police. “We relied on them,” Tanizaki told reporters.

He minimized the importance of the Ramos audio recording, saying “nothing has changed.”

In the aftermath of Thomas’ death, three Fullerton city councilmen were criticized for not acting quickly enough to discipline police officers and not showing enough compassion to Thomas’ family. The three were recalled in the June 5 election. A new council majority takes over next month.

— TRACY WOOD

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