Alesia Thomas was already handcuffed on that July 2012 evening when a veteran police officer hit and kicked the 35-year-old, cursing at Thomas as she shoved her in the back of a squad car in South Los Angeles.
Thomas gasped for air and asked for an ambulance, looking into a patrol car camera with wide eyes. A few minutes later, her head fell backward as she lost consciousness.
She died at a hospital.
Two years before a national debate erupted over policing, Thomas’ arrest renewed scrutiny of how Los Angeles police used force during seemingly routine calls and underscored how cameras could help monitor officers. The assault led to a felony conviction and jail time for the officer, Mary O’Callaghan, a rare outcome in cases where police are accused of using excessive force.
On Wednesday, there was yet another consequence of that night: City Council members unanimously agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit with Thomas’ two children.
Attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thomas’ family did not return calls or emails seeking their reaction to the settlement. Both the Los Angeles Police Department and city attorney’s office declined to comment.
The July 22, 2012, incident began when Thomas left her children, ages 3 and 12, at the LAPD’s Southeast station, telling police that she felt she could not care for them. Officers then went to Thomas’ home and, after briefly questioning her, tried to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment.
The video captured by two patrol car cameras, which was played during O’Callaghan’s criminal trial this summer, showed the veteran officer telling Thomas to “knock it off” as she flailed inside the patrol car. The officer, using profanity, threatened to break her arms and “punt” her in the groin.
The officer then jabbed at Thomas’ throat with an open hand. Later, O’Callaghan repeatedly jammed her boot into the woman’s crotch.
Throughout the recording, Thomas breathes heavily and repeatedly says, “I can’t.”
“I can’t move,” Thomas said at one point. “I can’t breathe.”
O’Callaghan was also captured on video laughing and smoking a cigarette as she looked inside the car at Thomas, whose legs were restrained.
The officer’s attorney, Robert Rico, said during the trial that although the footage showed an “ugly” scene, his client used “reasonable, justified and necessary” force because Thomas wasn’t following officers’ orders.
Although O’Callaghan was convicted of assault under the color of authority, she was not charged in connection with Thomas’ death. Coroner’s officials determined that cocaine intoxication was probably a “major factor” in Thomas’ death, but said it wasn’t possible to determine what role, if any, her struggle with police played.
Before O’Callaghan was sentenced this summer, she made a tearful courtroom apology to Thomas’ mother, her first public comments since the 2012 arrest.
“Mother to mother,” O’Callaghan said through tears, “I am extremely sorry for the loss of your daughter.”
O’Callaghan, a Marine veteran who had been with the LAPD for nearly 18 years, was sentenced to 36 months in jail. The last 20 months of the sentence were suspended, meaning she could be released within a few months with good behavior.
An LAPD spokesman said the department was in the process of terminating O’Callaghan. Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Wednesday that although O’Callaghan was technically still an LAPD employee, she had not been paid “for quite some time.”
Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.
Times staff writers Marisa Gerber and Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.