A woman’s death three years ago, after falling unconscious in the back seat of a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car, fueled growing national conversations about use of force and police encounters captured on camera. Now, the criminal trial of an officer charged in connection with the 2012 incident is nearing a conclusion.
Mary O’Callaghan, 50, worked as an LAPD officer for almost two decades, having patrolled the department’s Southeast Division for 15 years. In 2013, the district attorney’s office charged her with assault under the color of authority and she’s currently on trial. The department released a statement last month saying Chief Charlie Beck had “relieved her of duty.” In court this week, O’Callaghan stared ahead and occasionally scribbled notes to her attorney. During a break in the proceedings, she hugged several uniformed officers.
What happened on July 22, 2012?
Two children, ages 12 and 3, walked into a police station during the early morning hours and told officers their mother had dropped them off. Police responded to Alesia Thomas’ apartment to investigate possible child abandonment and she was eventually placed under arrest.
Officer Warner Carias, one of the responding officers, testified last week that Thomas appeared to be on drugs and refused to comply with orders. Officers didn’t call an ambulance until more than 30 minutes after Thomas asked for one, Carias said, adding that they thought she was faking her medical distress.
A squad-car video captured O’Callaghan -- who arrived as a backup officer several minutes later -- threatening Thomas and jamming her boot into the woman’s crotch and stomach.
Family members said Thomas, 35, liked to style hair and cook for the people she loved. A.C. Moses Jr., her uncle, said she struggled with drug addiction but always asked for help with her kids when she needed it.
Thomas was pronounced dead at a hospital soon after she lost consciousness in the squad car and an autopsy by the L.A. County coroner’s office determined cocaine intoxication likely played “a major factor” in her death.
During his closing statements Monday, Assistant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby told jurors that video of the 2012 arrest was “the evidence of the acts.” The prosecutor played clips from two different videos -- one from inside the squad car where Thomas became unconscious and another from a dash camera in a different patrol car. The videos show:
-- The officer strike at Thomas' throat and jam her boot into the woman's crotch and stomach.
-- O’Callaghan refer to Thomas with an expletive and say, “I’ll break your arms.”
-- Thomas breathing heavily before her eyes close and her head falls backward.
-- The officer smoking a cigarette and laughing.
The defense’s take
O’Callaghan’s attorney, Robert Rico, told jurors that although the video shows an “ugly” scene, his client’s actions were “reasonable” and “necessary” -- an opinion shared by a use-of-force expert who testified for the defense during the trial.
Rico said O’Callaghan didn’t kick Thomas, but used her foot to shove the woman -- who he said was resisting arrest -- into the squad car.
What’s next in the case?
An 11-woman, 1-man jury began deliberating Tuesday morning. If convicted, O’Callaghan faces as long as three years in state prison.
For more news from the Los Angeles County criminal courts, follow @marisagerber