Jury Begins Kelly Thomas Deliberations; DA Calls Police Violence “Unconscionable”

By R. Scott Moxley (OCWeekly)

Santa Ana Legal News & Articles

Orange County’s suburban juries are often dominated by unswerving, pro-cop biases, so District Attorney Tony Rackauckas had to be careful today when he asked a panel of eight women and four men to use “common sense” and hold two Fullerton police officers criminally liable for the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas.
“We have great law enforcement in Orange County,” Rackauckas said in his closing argument before the jury began deliberations around lunchtime. “This case was put together by good police officers. So this is not an indictment of the Fullerton Police Department or police departments [in the county].”

This case is only about the “unconscionable” treatment of Thomas by charged officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, the conservative Republican DA explained.

In July 2011, a group of cops savagely beat Thomas while pondering whether to arrest him for possession of stolen property after the 37-year-old, unarmed, homeless and schizophrenic man took several pieces of valueless, discarded mail from a trash can at the Fullerton Transportation Center.

An obnoxious Ramos initiated contact with the suspect, sassed him, antagonized him, and then, in a move the county’s top prosecutor calls criminal, declared his fists were going to “fuck you up.”

Rackauckas told jurors that “only a defense lawyer could make up” Barnett’s rationale that nobody would consider the officer’s statement as a looming threat of excessive force.

Thomas’ battered, bloody body didn’t look human when the cops finished punching, kicking, stomping, kneeing and firing Taser darts at him.

John Barnett and Michael Schwartz, defense lawyers for Ramos and Cicinelli, respectively, insist that Rackauckas and four doctors–all of whom independently testified the cause of Thomas’ death was the severe police beating that denied him critical oxygen–are engaged in an undefined conspiracy to frame their clients.
Rackauckas told jurors that if there was any conspiracy it was among Fullerton cops Stephen Rubio and Kevin Craig, who shamelessly testified for the defense that they couldn’t see any misguided police conduct during the relentless, seven-minute beating–never mind that the department fired Ramos and Cicinelli in the wake of the killing.

Adding to the craziness, both veteran lawyers adopted angry poses and asserted there is “no evidence” tying the beating to the death that followed.

Rackauckas labeled the defense’s trial strategy that espoused seven excuses designed to shield the now-fired cops from accountability as “straw man” arguments and “nonsense.”

For example, Barnett and Schwartz asserted the fully armed cops needed to pummel the 160-pound Thomas because they feared his supernatural strength and the officers should not be expected to pay attention to the victim’s repeated complaints about a dwindling supply of oxygen.

Schwartz portrayed Thomas–who never swung a single punch—as giving the group of cops “the fight of their lives,” but the officers emerged with only tiny, boo-boo scratches.
Apparently willing to simultaneously assert contradictory accounts, Cicinelli’s lawyer also described Thomas’ fight stance during the attack as “rigid and locked and trying not to move.”

And all the horrifically gruesome wounds to Thomas?

Schwartz boldly told the jury those injuries could have been caused not by the cops, but “from just rolling around in the street.”

Though his client bragged to fellow cops after the beating that he’d “smashed” Thomas’ face “to hell,” Schwartz provided a dismissive view of the wounds.

“Yeah, [Thomas] got some bruises,” he argued. “Yeah, he’s got some cuts.”

Said Rackauckas, “Some of the things the defense said were pretty ridiculous.”
Jurors are now in their first few hours of deliberations inside Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg’s 10th-floor Santa Ana courtroom.

Read more >

Is Another Gang Injunction in the Works for Santa Ana?

By Gabriel San Roman
OC Weekly


Last night, Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) Commander Tammy Franks and Assistant District Attorney Tracy Rinauro talked to a community gathering about the city’s sole gang injunction: the one affecting Santa Nita street gang, enacted in 2006. But residents and community groups didn’t gather to debate the merits of that injunction. Instead, they spoke out against rumors that a new one is being planned against the Townsend Street gang.
Back in late August, they claim, SAPD gang unit members said as much during a police presentation at the KidWorks center in the neighborhood.

The rumored area would be enclosed by West 1st Street, South Raitt Street, West McFadden Avenue and South Sullivan Street. The “safety zone” would also capture blocks claimed by the rival West Myrtle Street gang.

Vanessa Cerda, a neighborhood resident, took to public comments to caution against any such plans. “No one has notified me or my community if we wanted a gang injunction,” she said. “I created a petition and I gathered signatures against [it].” Cerda tells the Weekly that her partner is a former gang member that has left the life behind but still faces harassment by law enforcement. “It will only make it worse,” she says if an injunction is implemented.

Her viewpoints were echoed by grassroots organizations like Chican@s Unidos and Boys and Men of Color that stressed civil liberty concerns citing the recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit against the OVC gang injunction in Orange and promoted preventative programs for youth as a viable alternative. If police are building a case, residents and groups are building community, holding their first outdoor family movie night Friday on Townsend Street from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. with free parking at nearby Jerome Park.

Deep into the public safety meeting, city councilman Roman Reyna raised a key question regarding a possible injunction. “Have we started to collect data in [the] Townsend area to move in this particular direction?” Santa Ana Interim Police Chief Carlos Rojas offered a response. “It’s better not to speak on any specific issue,” he said citing concerns of breaching confidentiality, “but we are constantly looking at data related to all our hot spot areas.”

Later on, the KidWorks presentation was brought up once more from the audience. “I have not authorized anybody from my staff to talk about any gang injunction,” Rojas said. He then turned it over to Commander Franks who heads the gang unit.

“I actually reviewed the presentations,” she said of her officers that participated. “The [residents] were advised that [injunctions are] just one tool that can be used, not that we are intending to,” Franks said, though noting that she wasn’t present at the center.

“If there are gang injunctions to be done here in the city,” Rojas added, “I will be at that community meeting.” He apologized for any misinformation that may have been communicated and said that his phone line is open.

“The council members seemed very willing to learn and it showed that this meeting was useful,” Carolyn Torres of Chican@s Unidos said after it wrapped up. Having called Chief Rojas for clarification prior to last night, she remains unconvinced that there are no active plans for a gang injunction on Townsend.

“They’re building a case,” she adds. “The next step [for us] is to keep the fact finding mission going.”

Read more >