Los Angeles Police Department officers involved in restraining a 35-year-old mother–who struggled while they arrested her, was found unresponsive in the back seat of a police car and died at a hospital–were removed from field duty by Chief Charlie Beck.
“I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously and directed the officers involved be removed from field duties until further details are known, including what part intoxicants and physical conditions contributed,” Beck said. “I’m confident we will get to the truth, no matter where that leads us.”
Two children, a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old, were abandoned at the LAPD’s Southeast Station on July 22, police said. An officer’s investigation led to their mother, Alesia Thomas. After interviewing Thomas and completing a preliminary investigation, officers arrested her for suspicion of child endangerment.
According to a police spokesperson, the endangerment charge typically comes if children are just left without the parent talking to police about the situation.
Thomas began actively resisting arrest, attempting to pull away, said police. One officer performed a leg sweep and took her to the ground, while two other officers handcuffed Thomas behind her back, police said.
Thomas continued to resist being placed in the rear seat of the police vehicle, so officers placed a hobble restraint on her ankles and placed her in a seated position in the back seat, police said.
Within minutes after being placed in the vehicle, officers noticed Thomas did not appear to be breathing and immediately called for Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics, police said. She was taken to a hospital and died a short time later.
“We believe Alesia was a victim of excessive force,” said community activist and spokesman for the victim’s family, Najee Ali. “This is just the latest case of police brutality while someone was handcuffed and we believe it is a cover-up. Alesia’s death wasn’t even announced to the public and the media until a month and a half after the incident. We know that there was misconduct, because the LAPD said themselves that her mistreatment was caught on audio and videotape. The family and community leaders are calling for a meeting with Chief Beck to ensure transparency in the investigation.”
Beck’s removal of the officers in Thomas’ death from field duty comes one day after he removed Capt. Joseph Hiltner as commanding officer of the Foothill Division for being “severely deficient in his response” to an arrest that appeared to injure another woman.
Two LAPD officers conducted a traffic stop near the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Saluda Street for a cell phone violation. They were subsequently involved in an altercation with the driver of the vehicle.
Immediately after the incident, the involved officers reported it and a Use of Force investigation was initiated. The investigating supervisor canvassed the area and found a nearby business whose surveillance camera had captured the incident on videotape.
The driver involved was 34-year-old registered nurse Michelle Jordan of Sunland. During the stop Jordan got out of her car and during a confrontation with the officers was taken to the ground and handcuffed. A short time later while still handcuffed another encounter occurred between Jordan and the officers, and she was taken to the ground a second time. She was arrested and booked for Penal Code Section 148, Interfering/Resisting Arrest, and later released on her own recognizance.
Several other allegations of excessive use of force by the LAPD are currently under investigation, according the Huffington Post. Recently, Deutsche Bank executive Brian Mulligan filed a $50 million lawsuit against the department and alleges two officers held him captive and beat him on May 15.
Ron Weekley Jr., a 20-year-old college student from Venice, Calif., claims officers used excessive force to arrest him on Aug. 18. Weekley’s family has retained the services of Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney who also represents the family of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Crump has promised legal action against the LAPD over Weekley’s claims.
See www.ourweekly.com for related video.
City News Service contributed to this article.