LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles Police Department officer was charged with assault for kicking a handcuffed woman seven times in the groin, abdomen and upper thigh before the woman lost consciousness and died, prosecutors said Thursday.
While it's unclear whether the actions by Officer Mary O'Callaghan led to the death of Alesia Thomas, prosecutors believe she used unnecessary force and brought a charge of felony assault under color of authority.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the department worked closely with the district attorney's office.
"I hope the community recognizes that the act of one officer cannot and should not be an overall reflection of this department," Beck said.
The police union and O'Callaghan's lawyer, Robert Rico, defended her, saying she has compiled an exemplary record during 18 years with the LAPD.
"She's shocked by the decision of the DA's office to file these allegations and looks forward to proving her innocence in court," Rico said.
O'Callaghan, 48, faces arraignment Tuesday on the charge that could bring a three-year prison sentence. She has been relieved of duty without pay pending an administrative hearing, Rico said.
Thomas, a drug abuser who was bipolar, died July 22, 2012, following the struggle with O'Callaghan and several other officers. Police had gone to her home after she left her children, ages 3 and 12, outside a police station at 2 a.m.
The 228-pound Thomas resisted as officers attempted to arrest her for child abandonment. She was handcuffed and her legs were restrained.
O'Callaghan repeatedly used profanity and kicked Thomas as she tried to get her into a police car, according to the Police Commission, the civilian oversight board for the LAPD that earlier reviewed the incident. Thomas lost consciousness and was in full cardiac arrest when she arrived at a hospital.
An autopsy found 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 had no internal injuries or bruising, the coroner's report said.
A dashboard camera in a police car recorded the incident and it was reviewed by the commission, which determined O'Callaghan used unreasonable force. The LAPD has not released the video and denied a request by The Associated Press for a copy, citing the ongoing investigation.
The commission specifically noted O'Callaghan's "apparent indifference" to Thomas, but couldn't determine whether she deliberately kicked Thomas or was just using her foot to push her into the car. It said the decision to use her foot or leg to move Thomas into the cruiser was "ineffective and inappropriate."
Prosecutors declined to file a charge of involuntary manslaughter, citing insufficient evidence to prove the conduct caused Thomas' death.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is part of a team of attorneys representing Thomas' children in a suit against the LAPD, said Thomas' treatment by LAPD officers was "unconscionable" and demanded the department release the video.
Three other officers involved in the arrest have been placed on non-field assignments at other stations pending internal investigations. A fourth was allowed to return to the field.