Arrest video played in trial of LAPD officer accused in woman's death

Opening statements begin in trial of LAPD officer accused of kicking woman who later died

A video played in court for jurors Wednesday showed a Los Angeles police officer strike a handcuffed woman in the throat and use a foot to kick or shove her in the groin moments before the woman lost consciousness in the back of a patrol car.

The recording, captured by a squad car camera, showed Officer Mary O'Callaghan telling Alesia Thomas to "knock it off" as Thomas was flailing inside the vehicle. The officer threatened to "punt" Thomas in the groin, using a profanity for her genital area. 

As O'Callaghan jabbed at the woman's throat with her hand, Thomas looked into the camera with wide eyes. The recording captured Thomas, who also had her legs tied with a nylon hobble restraint, repeatedly saying, “I can’t.”

The video showed O’Callaghan raise her boot and strike Thomas, whose body shook in response. A few minutes later, Thomas’ eyes closed and her head fell backward, the video showed. The recording then cut off.

Video from a dashboard camera in a different police vehicle showed O’Callaghan walking near the patrol cars. She lit a cigarette and looked inside the car where Thomas had been placed.

“That ain’t a good sign,” O’Callaghan said out loud.

Thomas, 35, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The opening statements in O'Callaghan's assault trial marked the first time that the video has been shown publicly since Thomas' death in 2012.

Assistant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Shannon Presby told jurors that O'Callaghan kicked and shoved Thomas out of frustration when the woman wouldn't comply with her orders to sit in the backseat.

“The defendant kicked first and asked questions later,” Presby said.

He said O'Callaghan and other officers involved thought Thomas was faking when she asked for medical attention.

O'Callaghan's attorney, Robert Rico, told jurors that his client didn't kick Thomas but used her left foot to push the woman into the patrol car during the arrest.

Thomas, he said, refused to comply with orders given by O'Callaghan and other officers. He played another audio recording that he said showed O'Callaghan did not want to hurt Thomas.

"If you want to kill me, just kill me," Thomas said on the recording.

"I don't want to kill you. I just want to transport you," O'Callaghan responded.

"Why?" Thomas asked.

"To get you some help," the officer said.

After playing the recording, Rico described his client's actions as "reasonable, justified and necessary." 

"Those words show the true Officer O'Callaghan," Rico told jurors.

Rico and the prosecutor reminded jurors that O'Callaghan was not charged in connection with Thomas' death. The officer is charged with assault under color of authority.

An autopsy by the L.A. County coroner determined that cocaine intoxication was likely “a major factor” in Thomas’ death. It wasn't possible to determine what role, if any, the struggle with the officers played in her death and the official cause of death was listed as "undetermined."

O'Callaghan had arrived at Thomas' home in the 9100 block of South Broadway on July 22, 2012, to assist other officers responding to allegations that Thomas had abandoned her children after they were left at a local police station.

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck previously criticized the officer's actions.

In a report to the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, 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.

The same officer, the chief and the commission found, showed "apparent indifference" toward Thomas as she cursed at the mother of two young children during the messy effort to restrain her and place her in the back of the police cruiser.

An unexpected twist in the criminal case came in February when a judge declared a mistrial after an official in the Los Angeles Police Department's internal affairs division came forward with new information about the incident.

O’Callaghan is one of three LAPD officers facing charges of assault under the color of authority over on-duty incidents captured on camera.

In April, Officer Richard Garcia, 34, was charged with using unlawful force during an arrest last year. Clinton Alford Jr. told The Times he remembered being kicked in the head and said his body “flopped like a dead fish.” Security footage from a nearby building captured the arrest and officials said it shows Alford voluntarily getting on the ground and putting his hands behind his back.

Last year, Officer Jonathan Lai, 31, was charged with using excessive force while detaining a man near Staples Center in 2012. Security footage from a nearby restaurant shows Lai using his police baton to repeatedly hit the man, who prosecutors say was kneeling and had his hands on his head. 

For more news from the Los Angeles County criminal courts, follow @marisagerber

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:09 p.m.: The story has been updated to include details about why officers responded to Thomas' home.

1:17 p.m.: This story has been updated with more details from opening statements, including comments from a defense attorney.

10:50 a.m: This story has been updated with comments from a prosecutor and more details from a video played in court.

10:15 a.m.: This story has been updated with details from a video played in court.

This story was first published at 6 a.m.

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