Minutes after jabbing her boot into the stomach and crotch of a handcuffed woman who slipped into unconsciousness in the back of a patrol car and eventually died, an LAPD officer lighted a cigarette and laughed because she had become "so hardened," a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Assistant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby said the officer appeared "immune from any empathy" during the 2012 arrest of Alesia Thomas.
"This is a police officer that is so cynical about the people she polices, she dehumanizes them," Presby said during closing statements in Officer Mary O'Callaghan's assault trial.
After playing a squad-car video that captured O'Callaghan striking at Thomas' throat with an outstretched hand and threatening her, the prosecutor asked jurors to convict O'Callaghan of assault under the color of authority, saying the officer had crossed a line into criminal behavior.
But O'Callaghan's attorney, Robert Rico, said that while the footage shows an "ugly" scene — a term that, he said, describes most police work — his client's use of force wasn't excessive. He told jurors that Thomas was flailing wildly and refusing to follow orders, describing his client's actions as "necessary."
He placed blame, at least in part, on the supervisor at the scene, Sgt. James Muniz. Rico said Muniz should have taken better command of the situation and noted that he was demoted after the incident. An LAPD spokeswoman said the department doesn't discuss disciplinary matters, but said Muniz is currently listed as an officer.
Rico played an audio recording for jurors, which he said showed his client didn't want to hurt Thomas, a 35-year-old mother.
"If you want to kill me, just kill me," Thomas said in the recording.
"I don't want to kill you," O'Callaghan responded. "I just want to transport you."
"Why?" Thomas asked.
"To get you some help," the officer said.
But the prosecutor said the squad-car video — which he played several times during the trial — told a fuller version of the story.
The footage shows O'Callaghan strike at Thomas' throat and jam her boot into the other woman's crotch, a targeted move "to cause pain," Presby said.
A minute or two later, Thomas loses consciousness. O'Callaghan peeks inside the patrol car, takes a drag from her cigarette and says: "I don't think she's breathing."
Presby shook his head and turned to the jurors. "Where is the line if not here?" he asked, his voice swelling to a hoarse shout. "The line was crossed in this case."
Thomas was pronounced dead at a hospital following her July 22, 2012, arrest, which came after officers arrived at her home to investigate claims that she had abandoned her two children after they were dropped off at a police station.
During the trial, an officer who arrived at Thomas' home several minutes before O'Callaghan testified that officers didn't call for an ambulance for more than 30 minutes after Thomas first asked for one, saying they believed she was feigning medical distress.
Rico reminded jurors Monday that O'Callaghan, 50, was not charged in connection with Thomas' death. An autopsy by the L.A. County coroner's office determined that cocaine intoxication was probably "a major factor" in Thomas' death. It wasn't possible to determine what role, if any, the struggle played in her death, and the official cause of death was listed as "undetermined."
The jury will finish hearing instructions on Tuesday and is expected to begin deliberations afterward.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters attended the court proceedings Monday, saying outside the courtroom that she hopes to invigorate "a sustained discussion about the problems between the police community and the community."
"The videos are very telling," she said. "The videos will inform the jurors."
For Thomas' uncle, A.C. Moses Jr., watching the video in court felt like torture, he said. When Presby played the footage last week, Moses closed his eyes and let his face fall into his hands.
"That's killing me," he said outside court.
He looked down at a picture of Thomas printed on his T-shirt and whispered to himself: "God doesn't make mistakes."