LAPD officer charged with assaulting handcuffed woman who died

By Richard Winton/La Times
October 10, 2013, 8:47 p.m.

An LAPD officer was charged this week with assault under color of authority for kicking a handcuffed woman, who later died, in the groin during an arrest last year in South Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County district attorney charged LAPD Officer Mary O’Callaghan, 48, on Wednesday in connection with the July 22, 2012, incident that ended with the death of Alesia Thomas.

O’Callaghan was one of several officers sent to Thomas’ home in the 9100 block of South Broadway Avenue to investigate after she abandoned her children at a South L.A. police station.

The 19-year department veteran was supposed to help the arresting officers place Thomas, 35, in a patrol car. While Thomas was in handcuffs and leg restraints, prosecutors said, a police cruiser’s video camera captured the officer kicking Thomas in the stomach and groin area and pushing her in the throat.

Thomas, once inside the patrol car, lost consciousness, and paramedics were called. Shortly afterward, she was pronounced dead at a hospital.

“I am sad it has taken this long. I am sure (LAPD Chief) Charlie Beck saw this video long ago. I would like to see that video,” said Thomas’ mother, Sandra Thomas. “They’re charging that officer, but what about all of the officers involved? They did nothing to stop this.”

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents Thomas’ children in litigation against the LAPD, demanded the video be released.

“The truth is going to come out,” he said. “We don’t want to rely on their [police] view of the video. Her children, her family and the community should be able to see what happened when Alesia Thomas died in the custody of the LAPD.”

Prosecutors filed the charges after a lengthy investigation by LAPD detectives, who saw the incident on the police cruiser’s dashboard camera. On Thursday, Beck called the incident “tragic,” saying the officer’s actions, “as seen on the video, did not meet expectations I have for our officers.”

“As troubling as this case is, it demonstrates that our system of discovering misconduct is working, and that we will hold our officers accountable for their actions,” Beck said, noting his investigators had worked closely with prosecutors.

O’Callaghan faces up to three years in prison. She is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. Prosecutors said they declined to charge O’Callaghan with involuntary manslaughter because of insufficient evidence to prove her conduct caused Thomas’ death.

O’Callaghan’s lawyer, Robert Rico, said his client is “absolutely devastated the D.A. chose to file against her.”

An autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner determined cocaine intoxication probably was “a major factor” in Thomas’ death. It was impossible to determine what role, if any, the struggle with the officers played. Because of that uncertainty, the official cause of death was listed as “undetermined.”

O’Callaghan is currently suspended without pay after Beck directed she face a disciplinary panel known as a Board of Rights, according to sources not authorized to discuss the matter. The panel will determine whether she violated department policy and recommend a punishment up to termination.

In a report to the five-member civilian police commission, Beck concluded — without naming O’Callaghan — that a veteran female officer violated department policies by repeatedly using her feet to kick or shove Thomas in her genitals and midsection.

He also raised concerns about three officers and a supervisor during the confrontation. Two officers disregarded Thomas’ request for medical help, and the third may have lied to investigators about the incident, Beck wrote. A sergeant may have failed to properly supervise the scene, he wrote.

Hours before she died, Thomas, who suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and drug addiction according to the autopsy report, had left her children, a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old, outside the Southeast station, according to a department account of the incident.

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