Update: 1:30 pm: Under cross-examination, emergency medicine expert Dr. Gary Vilke acknowledged that weight on a person's body can restrict breathing.
Vilke was responding to questions from Orange County District Atty. Tony Rackauckas.
But he maintained that the change in Thomas' voice hear during a video tape of his altercation with police did not indicate his breathing was obstructed.
Vilke said Thomas' voice becoming low and elongated could have been an indication of a "modification" of his airway.
He said Thomas was still "ventilating" or moving air into and out of his lungs.
Rackauckas asked Vilke whether it's possible somebody can be ventilating but still not getting enough oxygen.
Vilke answered, "possibly yes."
11:37 a.m. Defense attorneys in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers accused in the death of a mentally ill, homeless man called to the witness stand Monday an emergency room physician who challenged the official cause of death determination for Kelly Thomas.
The Orange County Coroner’s Office ruled Kelly Thomas died July 10, 2011, from a lack of oxygen to the brain brought on by compression to the chest and by head and facial injuries. His death came five days after he was involved in a violent struggle with six police officers outside the Fullerton Transportation Center.
On the ninth day of trial for defendants Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, Dr. Gary Michael Vilke testified that blunt force trauma did not cause or contribute to Thomas’ death. Ramos and Cicinelli have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, with Ramos facing an additional count of second-degree murder. Cicinelli has also been charged with using excessive force.
Vilke is a professor of clinical emergency medicine at UC San Diego and has researched in-custody deaths. Under questioning from defense attorney Michael Schwartz, Vilke said he reached his conclusion after reviewing Thomas’ medical and autopsy records and after watching a surveillance video tape of the July 5, 2011, altercation between Thomas and police.
“Facial trauma doesn’t kill people,” Vilke said. He testified Thomas did not lose consciousness immediately after the struggle indicating there was no brain injury. Vilke said a CT scan later performed on Thomas looked normal.
Vilke also testified Thomas didn’t appear to have suffered a lack of oxygen during the struggle. Vilke said he was an expert in how air moves into and out of the lungs, or ventilation. He said after reviewing the video, he didn’t see any instance in which enough pressure was used to cause ventilation failure in Thomas.
Vilke said he found no evidence that Thomas suffered asphyxiation. He said he saw no indication of a broken nose and no blockage of airways.
As part of their case, prosecutors have pointed out that Thomas can be heard in the video yelling that he couldn't breathe. Vilke testified the fact Thomas was able to yell indicated he was breathing.
“’I can’t breathe,’ this is a common thing people will say,” Vilke said. “The fact that he is screaming and screaming and screaming[…] We know that he is getting a long burst of air out.”
Vilke also testified that the amount of blood Thomas lost during the struggle was not enough to kill him or trigger cardiac arrest. He said records indicated Thomas lost about 150 cubic centimeters of blood, much less than what a person loses in donating blood.
Earlier Monday, clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Flores de Apodaca testified that Thomas had acknowledged in a 1995 interview that he had been using methamphetamines for several years.
Defense attorneys contend Thomas died from an enlarged heart brought on by drug abuse.