LAPD refuses to release video of fatal encounter with mother

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The family of a woman who died while several Los Angeles police officers forcefully took her into custody is calling for the LAPD to release a video of the incident.


‘The family hasn’t been given any information about her death and they are frustrated beyond belief,’ Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said in an interview.

On July 22, Alesia Thomas left her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southeast Area station, according to an LAPD account of her death. Police say Thomas was trying to surrender custody of the children to police because she was a drug addict and felt she could not care for them.

After discovering the children, officers went in search of Thomas at her home and tried to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment. The officers drove in a patrol car outfitted with a video camera that was activated.

Police allege that Thomas ‘began actively resisting arrest.’ One of the officers took her to the ground by sweeping her legs from beneath her, the LAPD’s official account said. Two others handcuffed Thomas’ hands behind her back and the officers then attempted to lead her to a patrol car while a supervising sergeant observed, according to the department.

A police official, who has seen the video and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly on the case, refuted the idea that Thomas was actively resisting the officers. Instead, the official said, it appeared on the video that Thomas was struggling to breathe and was unable to follow the officers’ commands.

Two more officers were summoned as Thomas continued to struggle. Police have confirmed that Thomas was a large woman. A ‘hobble restraint device’ -- an adjustable strap -- was tightened around Thomas’ ankles to give the officers more control and she was eventually forced into the back of the patrol car, the LAPD account said.

Thomas is seen on the video breathing shallowly and then appearing to fall into unconsciousness, the official said. Paramedics could not revive her.

At some point before Thomas was put in the car, a ranking police official acknowledged, a female officer shouted vulgar insults at her and threatened to kick her genitals if she did not comply. The officer then followed through on the threat, the official said, stomping the heel of her boot onto Thomas’ groin. Crump and Steve Effres, who are representing Thomas’ family, said the LAPD has rejected their repeated requests for a copy of the video.

The Times, too, has requested a copy of the video. The LAPD has refused the request, citing the ongoing investigation into the officers’ actions and Thomas’ death.

Effres rebuffed that reasoning, saying the department has had ample time to conduct its investigation. ‘I suspect if the video was helpful to the police’s position then we would be seeing the video, but because it is presumably harmful to them, they refuse to show it.’

An LAPD spokesperson did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The attorneys said they were planning to ask a judge to compel the LAPD to release the video. A federal lawsuit against the department is also planned, they said.

[Updated at 1:30 p.m.: LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said the tape would not be released until the department’s investigation was complete. When the inquiry is finished, Smith added, the department would present its findings to the L.A. County district attorney’s office for possible criminal charges.

Department officials will decide, as well, whether any of the officers involved should be disciplined internally. Pending the outcome of the investigation, the four police officers and supervising sergeant who was present have all been taken out of the field and reassigned to administrative jobs, Smith said.]

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-- Joel Rubin