By Tami Abdollah
LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles police officer has been charged with assault for allegedly kicking a woman seven times in the groin, abdomen and upper thigh during an arrest in which the woman ultimately died, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charge of felony assault under color of authority against Officer Mary O'Callaghan, an 18-year LAPD veteran, on Wednesday, according to Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
"She's never had a sustained complaint of this type for anything," said O'Callaghan's attorney Robert Rico. "She has an exemplary record and she's shocked by the decision of the DA's office to file these allegations and looks forward to proving her innocence in court."
O'Callaghan, 48, faces arraignment Tuesday and has been relieved of duty without pay pending an administrative hearing, Rico said.
The Police Commission, a civilian oversight board, reviewed the July 22, 2012, incident and issued a report concluding that O'Callaghan used unreasonable force on Alesia Thomas, 35, when she was restrained and in the backseat of a cruiser.
Officers had tracked Thomas to her South Los Angeles apartment after she'd abandoned her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at a police station at 2 a.m. because she was a drug addict and couldn't care for them. Officers at the station learned the children expected their grandmother to pick them up.
The visit to Thomas' home quickly escalated into a prolonged struggle when officers tried to arrest the 228-pound Thomas for child abandonment.
O'Callaghan allegedly repeatedly used profanity and the kicks while trying to get Thomas into the car and secure her in the backseat, as Thomas continued to struggle, kicking her legs toward the window and at O'Callaghan.
The report contained a detailed description of the incident, which was also caught on a police car camera. The department has not released the videotape and denied a request for a copy from The Associated Press, citing the ongoing investigation.
According to the report, video shows Thomas' "eyes roll back and her body roll toward the driver's seat" before she appeared unconscious. She arrived at the hospital in full cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead by a doctor.
An autopsy found that Thomas had cocaine in her system, but left her cause of death as "undetermined" because the struggle couldn't be excluded as a contributing factor. Thomas, who had a history of bipolar disorder, had no internal injuries or bruising, the coroner's report said.
O'Callaghan was one of several officers involved in the incident, but the only one whose actions were found to violate department policies. None of the officers were identified by name in the commission's report.
The commission specifically noted O'Callaghan's "apparent indifference" to Thomas, but wasn't able to determine whether she deliberately kicked Thomas or was just using her foot to push her into the car. But the decision to use her foot or leg to move Thomas into the cruiser was "ineffective and inappropriate," the commission said.
Prosecutors declined to file a charge of involuntary manslaughter, citing insufficient evidence to prove that the conduct caused Thomas' death, according to the district attorney's office.
The assault charge is punishable by up to three years in state prison, prosecutors said.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is part of a team of attorneys representing Thomas' children in a suit against the LAPD, demanded that the video be released.
"It is unconscionable that in this day and age LAPD officers would treat a person like they treated her," Crump said. "We demand (the video be released). The truth is going to come out."
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement that the department worked closely with the district attorney's office on preparing and filing the case, which he called troubling. He said O'Callaghan's actions that day didn't meet his expectations but the filing shows the department "will hold our officers accountable for their actions."
"I hope the community recognizes that the act of one officer cannot and should not be an overall reflection of this Department," Beck said.
Tyler Izen, president of the police union, said O'Callaghan's actions are "incongruous with her reputation as an officer known to be diligent, courteous and ethical."
O'Callaghan was publicly commended by the department in 2004 for her efforts to help a family whose Christmas gifts were stolen in a home burglary.
Three other officers have been placed on non-field assignments at other stations pending internal investigations. A fourth was allowed to return to the field.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press