Did anyone follow the Kelly Thomas trial? Cops' use of force caused a death; cops aquitted

Kelly Thomas died as a result of injuries meted out by police officers.

The officers, charged with 2nd degree murder and manslaughter, were acquitedyesterday. The jury acquitted after deliberating for less than two days.

Not having followed the case, my primary familiarity with it is the security footage of his arrest (video here: obvious warning, it contains graphic violence).

Viewed in a vacuum, the video creates the impression that the police acted unlawfully (for a lay conception of ‘unlawful’). Following that, their acquittal has led to a substantial amount of RO.

I’m trying to figure out what the defence was. The net, though, is overwhelmed with, well, non-Dopers.

I tried to remain neutral in this OP and am posting to GD instead of the Pit in hopes that someone here has followed the case closely enough to be able to earnestly represent the defence’s case.

Did the prosecution suffer a miserable failure and did not prove some element of the charges?

Did the defence provide substantially more context than available in the footage?

Did the case turn on some aspect of California law regarding police actions?

Again, I didn’t follow the actual case, so cannot give an informed opinion (which I’d do if this were the Pit). I assume others can.

Maybe the jury, in two days of deliberation, determined that the cops acted appropriately, use of force and all.

I don’t know a great deal more than the above about the case myself, but I am annoyed at your supposition that the force must have been unnecessary and the verdict is somehow flawed. Sometimes the best of cops with the best of intentions in the best possible situation have to do more than politely request a perp to behave. Video also lies sometimes, in that what may appear to be unwarranted actions have extenuating circumstances. The jury saw all the evidence; your second-guessing them from admitted ignorance is… troubling.

Well that was a bizarre reply. :confused:

Based on the article in the OP and this one, the defense was what you’d expect: the officers’ conduct was reasonable in response to the threat they faced:

They also argued that Thomas’ death was due to his poor health, rather than the severity of the beating:

From your cite -

As far as I can tell, the defense was that a schizophrenic was found trying to break into cars. When the police detained him, it was found that he had stolen someone else’s mail. The police then had probable cause to arrest. The schizophrenic then threatened to attack the officers with his fists. He then violently resisted arrest, and died of asphyxia while being subdued.

Apparently that was the defense - that a violent, mentally ill person resisted arrest, got Taser’ed and hit in the face, and then died while being arrested due to pre-existing health issues.

[li]It’s too bad. [/li][li]There is no way to guarantee that the kind of people who tend to get arrested will not die in the fight if they resist arrest.[/li][li]If the implication is that every time someone dies in police custody, the arresting officers will be charged with murder, that does not sound like a good idea to me. YMMV.[/li][/ul]It’s terrible that this poor homeless nutcase died. But shit happens.


Isn’t there a generally accept legal precedent called the Eggshell Skull rule? Meaning that even if the victim suffers from some debilitation that magnifies the damage that the perpetrator didn’t intend to cause, the perpetrator is still held fully liable for the result?

Not a lawyer, but my understanding is that this is only applicable if the damage was the result of negligence or a criminal act. That is to say, if the policemen were justified in striking Mr. Thomas, the fact that he died due to his medical conditions doesn’t make them civilly or criminally liable. If they were not justified in striking him then, as you say, the (alleged) fact that the ultimate cause of his death was a pre-existing medical problem wouldn’t excuse them from liability.

Only if you’re pre-convinced, in admitted ignorance, that brutal cops deliberately beat a hapless citizen to death and got off scot-free.

No it wasn’t. The Rodney King video (Is that a corollary of Godwin’s Rule?) taken in a vacuum is a different story that reality. I’m not condoning what the police did but there is certainly more to the story than racist white cops beating a black man prone on the ground not moving.

Cop suspects you’re on drugs and tells you to get on the ground and don’t move. You crawl and reach out to him (note your hand is at belt/gun/taser level). Defense is “I was defending myself.” and “Perp was not following directions.” Whether it is excessive is (IMO properly) left with an impartial jury.

What if he’s post-convinced, after reading the testimony and reviewing the evidence, that brutal cops deliberately beat a hapless citizen to death and got off scot-free?

No, that’s how a fucking democracy works: we question what we don’t understand or that seems improper and work to fix those things that we determine are problems.

I thought the ME said he died from heart failure and that his heart was enlarged from years of drug abuse.

I’ve been following the trial from far, far away due to the fact that somebody I know is very passionately involved in it, helping organize the (large) public protests that have taken place in Fullerton as a result of Thomas’ death. Nevertheless, I can’t call myself an expert, due to being an ocean away. But I can correct a few misconceptions already voiced in the thread.

First of all, it was said that Thomas died due to a pre-existing heart condition; but that isn’t the case, in fact, compression of his thorax impaired his breathing and led to his brain being deprived of oxygen. He also suffered multiple fractions of his facial bones. Also, his tox screen was negative.

Second, to my knowledge, Thomas wasn’t implicated in the car vandalism in any way other than being in the area (which he was known to frequent). In fact, there is witness testimony to the effect that he wasn’t causing trouble.

Third, it’s certainly not only felt on the side of those sympathizing with Thomas and his family that the cops did not act in accordance with the law; Thomas’ mother reportedly received a substantial sum in a settlement with the Fullerton City Council, and neither Ramos nor Wolfe are currently in the employ of the police.

And on a personal note, if I hear the cop that has just donned latex gloves say “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to fuck you up.”, I might likewise have a hard time cooperating with law enforcement.

On another personal note, the kneejerk side with the power-response especially to an OP who is expressly withholding judgment and asking for futher clarification is way worse than any reflexive accusation of the cops involved would have been. In a democracy, by its very nature, power should always be subject to questioning; it is the only way we can tolerate its being exerted over us at all.

So far, he hasn’t; the entire OP is wallowing in admitted ignorance and misplaced judgment. I don’t do “what if” around the mulberry bush.

And god help democracy, because it has to begin with some intelligence and judgment, not ignorant bleating and mob action.

I’ve read a fair amount of balanced coverage on the trial. I think the verdicts were fair - no, it’s not a pretty incident and yes, it could have had different outcomes, but the jury seems to be correct in assessing that the two cops were within the bounds of their job in controlling a difficult and potentially dangerous subject, no matter how many times he wailed, “I’m sorry.” It’s possible the entire justice system is at fault for not having better procedures to deal with the mentally disturbed and disabled, but the question was whether the two cops were liable and at fault, and the jury said no.

That’s not the same thing as saying it’s all okay; it’s saying responsibility fell in many places, including the victim, but not solely on these two officers.

I think the defense was that his enlarged heart was the reason that he died from a compression that (presumably) a person with a healthy heart would have survived. It isn’t exactly either-or, IOW. An expert witness for the defense said

(Cite). And

(Emphasis added.)

Agreed. The facial injuries were not the cause of death. I believe the testimony was that his face was injured by being struck with the butt of the Taser. It appears that he was Tas-ed either before or after being struck (or both).

A report of a disheveled man jiggling car locks was the source of the original call that brought officers to the scene.

And he was found to have someone else’s mail in his backpack. So I don’t think it is accurate to say that “he wasn’t causing trouble”, or at the least the police had reasonable suspicion.

I made a mistake earlier, and confused the threat from the officer with Thomas resisting arrest. My bad.


:rolleyes: If you feel that way you prolly should be posting in GQ not GD.

This is an unbelievably hostile mischaracterization of the OP.

I disagree with your opinions here but commend you for the manner and tone in which you present them.

I don’t think so. Here it is in a nutshell: Ignorance is not an argument. The OP freely admits knowing Jack Schitt about the trial but proceeds to go on and on about how terrible and unfair it was.

Further reading and further comments have brought some nuances to both sides but that doesn’t change the nature of the OP nor (so far) my opinion that within the narrow confines of the trial, the jury made the correct decision.

Yeah, it’s horrible. Yeah, it’s unfair on many levels. No, it wasn’t Murder 2.

ETA: Cooperating with a cop’s orders is not the same thing as knuckling under to a slave state.

Holy shit, I could have gone to Yahoo! Answers for this type of answer. I don’t get it. Where did I say the force “must” have been unnecessary? Asking what defence’s case was is tantamount to claiming the verdict was flawed? And where’s the word “brutal” in the OP–or even a synonym? “Deliberately beat a hapless citizen”? Judgement and second guessing? Oh, I know where you saw frothing; it was when I asked the inflammatory “Did the defence provide substantially more context than available in the footage?”
Were you so desperate for a Pit thread on the topic that that’s all you could see?

[Wait, it gets better on preview. “Proceeds to go on and on about how terrible and unfair it was.” Really? Holy shit, I don’t think that’s even up to Yahoo standards. Are Google Groups still around? What about usenet’s alt.what.the.hell.are.you.reading.because.it’s.certainly.not.the.OP.]

Anyway, Shodan and Human Action pretty much summed up what I was asking about (er, and others, but those are the names I can remember as I’m typing). No grand reveal that the footage was purposely edited or was missing crucial time-periods or that there was a esoteric point of law involved.

So, it’s simple. Order and read the entire trial transcript, plus all legal analysis. Watch all the evidence. Then, tell us what you think, arguing from knowledge rather than the opposite.

I am really tired of dudes who spend all their life trying to get out of jury duty complaining about “how can the jury possibly…’ when they didn’t even read the fucking trial transcript.

How could the jury? Because they sat there for days and heard the actual evidence. Not just watched a short video.

Try it someday.