SANTA ANA – The training officer for Fullerton police testified Tuesday that he saw nothing contrary to department policy when he watched the video of the fatal encounter between officers and the homeless Kelly Thomas.
Cpl. Stephen Rubio told a jury that he provided use-of-force and tactical training to Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, the two former officers on trial in the death of Thomas.
Rubio said he felt Ramos issued what he called a conditional threat when he snapped on a pair of latex gloves while questioning Thomas in a downtown parking lot and said, “Now see my fists? They’re getting ready to f— you up.” Those words, Rubio said, were intended to get Thomas to comply with Ramos’ lawful orders and were preferable to a physical confrontation.
“The profanity might be a little off-color and maybe a slight policy violation,” Rubio testified. “But if they prevented a use of force … it (was) for the greater good.”
He added that while it is preferable not to use profanity, “sometimes it is necessary to avoid a physical fight.”
Prosecutors contend that Ramos on July 5, 2011, escalated a routine questioning into violence with the gloves and the message that Thomas was about to be beaten.
Within seconds of those comments, Thomas, 37, was taken to the ground, struck with batons and a Taser, and rendered unconscious. He died five days later when life support was removed.
Under cross-examination from Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki, Rubio said it was possible that certain words can create a hostile environment and lead to a physical confrontation. “You are trained not to use threatening words,” he said.
Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, 42, who used a Taser first to jolt a struggling Thomas and then to strike him on his face, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority.
The confrontation was captured by a police surveillance camera mounted on a pole at the Fullerton Transportation Center. The 33-minute video has become the focal point in the trial before Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg.
Defense attorney Michael Schwartz contends Cicinelli resorted to using his Taser to strike Thomas only after the electrical charges did not subdue him and Thomas tried to grab the Taser.
Rubio, under questioning from Schwartz, agreed that it is a dangerous situation when someone attempts to take a weapon during an encounter. “You need to retain your weapon for your own safety and everyone else’s safety,” he said.
Cicinelli’s use of his hard plastic Taser, Rubio added, was consistent with his training and not out of policy.
The trial resumes Wednesday.
By LARRY WELBORN / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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