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Cicinelli acting in self-defense against combative suspect, attorney says

Surveillance footage of the Kelly Thomas encounter the evening of July 5, 2011
Surveillance footage of the Kelly Thomas encounter the evening of July 5, 2011Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Cpl. Jay Cicinelli acted in self-defense the night of July 5, 2011, against a combative Kelly Thomas who was trying to grab his taser, his attorney told the jury Jan. 8 during closing arguments.

Michael Schwartz said that Cicinelli acted in self-defense when he hit Thomas in the head twice with a taser after Thomas tried to grab the wires of his taser.

Schwartz told the jury during closing arguments that Cicinelli was thinking of officer safety that evening as he exercised the right of self-defense. Thomas allegedly grabbed Cicinelli's taser that evening. Schwartz said that a person does not have to be injured in order to exercise their right to self-defense.

Cicinelli tried everything to not use physical force against Thomas, Schwartz said. He played the video from when Cicinelli arrived on scene and showed him dry tasing (the lowest level on a taser) Thomas to using taser darts, which did nothing.

"He's trying everything he can possibly do to not hit this guy," Schwartz told the jury.

Schwartz methodically went through the case, telling jurors that the prosecution only had emotion in this case and could not meet the burden of proof to convict his client. He likened the prosecution's purported lack of a case to an octopus in danger.

"When an octopus is in danger, it spews out black ink. It makes everything murky; it makes everything black. It ignores the details," he said.

From prosecution medical witnesses not agreeing on a cause of death to Rackauckas' statement yesterday that Thomas had a right to self-defense against the police, Schwartz said that the prosecution had not met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict his client of the charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery by a police officer.

Schwartz kept the jury instructions for circumstantial evidence on a screen behind him as he spoke about each of the charges against Cicinelli. He said that the instructions for it applied substantially in this case.

Cicinelli could not be found guilty of manslaughter because he was not acting in a reckless way, Schwartz said. He was always thinking and constantly reassessing, Schwartz said, as he showed spots in the surveillance video taken July 5, 2011, where Cicinelli can be seen trying different phases of tasing.

"It may not sound nice (tasing), but it's a way of getting a person under control without injuries," Schwartz said.

Schwartz showed the jury a few different quotes that he displayed on a stand as he spoke-one from the movie "12 Angry Men" and two from the book "To Kill A Mockingbird." He left up a quote from "To Kill A Mockingbird" during the duration of his closing argument.

If the real trial takes place in the secret courts of men's hearts, is the public trial pointless? What purpose did it serve?

Schwartz told the jury that there job was not to "send a message" as Rackauckas told them yesterday.

"You don't do that! We don't convict people in this country just to find closure. We don't convict people to ease a collective conscience. [If that happens] then that document the Constitution is pointless. The kids in Social Studies should close their books. Then police officers should take off their badges and go home," he said.

Cicinelli is being tried for involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery by a police officer in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless, Schizophrenic man who was hospitalized July 5, 2011, after an encounter with Cicinelli and former Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos. Thomas was taken off life support five days later and died.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas will give his rebuttal argument tomorrow with the jury then receiving the case thereafter.