A Los Angeles police officer was convicted on June 5 of assault by a public officer for kicking and shoving a handcuffed woman who later died.
Mary O’Callaghan, 50, faces up to three years in prison, after jurors deliberated for nearly two days before reaching a verdict.
The charge stemmed from the July 22, 2012 arrest of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas in the 9100 block of South Broadway. Thomas, who lost consciousness in a patrol car, was pronounced dead at a hospital. Cocaine intoxication was likely a “major factor” in Thomas’ death, according to autopsy findings, although the official coroner’s report lists the cause of death as “undetermined.”
During his closing argument, assistant head deputy district attorney Shannon Presby told the 11-woman, one-man jury that O’Callaghan’s use of force was unreasonable given that the unarmed Thomas was being picked up for alleged child abandonment rather than a violent crime and posed little threat to officers.
When O’Callaghan, an 18-year veteran, arrived on the scene, two other officers had already handcuffed Thomas and placed her legs in a “hobble” that tied them together, Presby said. The prosecutor said that Thomas was “helpless in the back of that police car” and was trying to sit up so she could breathe, when O’Callaghan, reportedly frustrated in trying to retie the leg restraints, threatened to break Thomas’ arm, shoved her on the chest and throat and kicked her in the stomach and then her groin.
“She’s sitting up because her heart is failing,” Presby told jurors. “She’s drowning in her own blood.” Thomas reportedly told officers that her chest and legs were hurting and that she needed an ambulance, but “… no matter what Ms. Thomas said, (O’Callaghan) refused to listen,” the prosecutor said.
“This is a police officer who is so cynical about the people that she polices that she dehumanizes them; she calls them names,” Presby told jurors, playing a video recording of the incident from a patrol car camera. None of the other officers used unreasonable force, Presby said, although they earlier used a leg sweep to trip Thomas to the ground and handcuff her.
The other officers—who were not charged in connection with Thomas’ death—had been sent to Thomas’ home, after her two children walked into the lobby of the LAPD Southwest station, apparently waiting for their grandmother to pick them up. One of the officers testified that he warned O’Callaghan to stop and another pulled her back at one point, Presby told the jury panel. The prosecutor said the officers reported to emergency medical personnel that Thomas was “conscious” and suffering from “shortness of breath.”
“This is where the cover-up began,” Presby told jurors, citing the alleged misinformation as evidence that the officers knew O’Callaghan “had gone too far” but choose to hide behind the “blue wall of silence.”