Video: 2 officers charged in death of homeless man

updated 9/26/2011 2:02:57 PM ET 2011-09-26T18:02:57

One of two police officers charged with killing a mentally ill, homeless man pleaded not guilty Monday to second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Lawyers for Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos, 37, argued for reduction of his $1 million bail, saying Ramos feared for his life in jail. A judge denied the motion.

Ramos, a 10-year veteran, and Fullerton police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 39, were charged last week with killing Kelly Thomas, 37, during a violent arrest at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5.

Officers were responding to a report of possible vehicle burglaries at the site.

Ramos entered the plea in Orange County Superior Court before Judge Erick Larsh.

Cicinelli, a 12-year veteran, pleaded not guilty Friday to one count each of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. He was released on $25,000 bail.

Prosecutors said Thomas was shocked four times with a Taser stun gun, kneed in the head, punched in the ribs and bashed eight times with the butt of a stun gun.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said the fight began when Ramos asked Thomas to place his hands on his knees.

When Thomas had trouble complying, Ramos snapped on a pair of latex gloves, held his fists in front of Thomas' face and said: "Now see my fists? They are getting ready to F you up," the prosecutor said.

He then went on to swing his baton at Thomas, chased him and eventually pinned him to the ground with his body, authorities said.

The coroner concluded the cause of death was mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen, Rackauckas said. Other injuries to the face and head contributed to his death.

Cicinelli, who arrived later, kneed Thomas twice in the head and used a Taser on him as he screamed and yelled in pain, Rackauckas said.

An FBI investigation is under way to determine if Thomas' civil rights were violated.

Rackauckas, a longtime prosecutor known for his strong backing of law enforcement, said it was the first time he had filed charges against police officers for excessive force leading to death.

"Police officers have a right to use reasonable force in the performance of a lawful duty but citizens have a right to self-defense, even against the police," he said.

Thomas suffered severe head and neck injuries and was taken off life support five days after the incident.

Thomas suffered from schizophrenia and lived on the streets even though he received support from family and friends.

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