Updated at 4:40 p.m. June 5, 2015
A veteran Los Angeles police officer was convicted Friday of assault by a public officer for kicking and shoving a handcuffed woman who later died.
Mary O’Callaghan, 50, faces a sentence that could range from probation to up to three years behind bars. She is due back in court July 23 for sentencing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta.
Jurors deliberated less than 2 1/2 days before reaching the verdict on the felony charge.
At the defense’s request, O’Callaghan was taken into custody shortly after the jury’s verdict.
“Mary felt it was important to go into custody and await her sentencing,” defense attorney Robert Rico told reporters outside court. “She firmly believes that if this is truly the findings of the jury and they felt that there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that she wanted to go in now.”
O’Callaghan’s lawyer described his client as a “very strong, tough woman” who was a 13-year Marine Corps veteran and 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who bought Halloween costumes for children in housing projects. He said his client believes that “the force she used was reasonable and necessary based on the facts known to her at the time.”
Rico told reporters that he believed the verdict was “not based upon evidence of an unreasonable use of force,” but rather on “emotion” and “the words that she used.”
The defense attorney said he plans to file a motion for a new trial and, if that is denied, will seek a probationary sentence for his client. He said he believes the LAPD will move forward to terminate O’Callaghan if her conviction stands following an appeal.
Meanwhile, community activist Najee Ali said Thomas’ family was asking for the “maximum sentence” for O’Callaghan, who was charged in connection with the July 22, 2012, arrest of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas in the 9100 block of South Broadway Avenue.
Thomas, who lost consciousness in the patrol car, was pronounced dead at a hospital. Cocaine intoxication likely was a “major factor” in Thomas’ death, according to autopsy findings, though the coroner’s report lists the cause of death as undetermined.
After the verdict, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said, “I am pleased that the jury agreed with our assessment of the evidence in this case. The verdict proves the criminal justice system works.”
In a statement, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said, “As I expressed at the time, I was very concerned about this incident and we launched a thorough investigation that ultimately led to criminal charges against the involved officer.
“It is always disappointing when an officer fails to uphold the high standards and professionalism shown by the thousands of LAPD officers who courageously protect this city and proudly wear our badge every day. I appreciate the partnership we have with District Attorney Jackie Lacey and her team in our joint efforts to ensure that officers who operate outside of the law, and tarnish our badge, are held accountable.”
During his closing argument Monday, 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.
By the time O’Callaghan 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 Thomas was “helpless in the back of that police car” and simply trying to sit up so she could breathe when O’Callaghan, frustrated in trying to retie the hobble, threatened to break Thomas’ arm, shoved her on the chest and throat and kicked her in her 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 told officers her chest and legs hurt and 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.
In his closing argument, O’Callaghan’s attorney said the real question for jurors was whether the force his client used was reasonable under the circumstances.
Rico said his client was called as backup to assist in getting the 6- foot-1-inch Thomas, who weighed 228 pounds, into the patrol car. He said the woman kicked the door of the patrol car and refused to get inside.
“It took three sets of handcuffs originally to handcuff her,” Rico said, telling jurors that she bent the metal hook of one set of handcuffs.
Thomas “was not cooperating from the second Officer O’Callaghan physically touched her,” Rico said, “struggling, resisting, combative at times, under the influence of cocaine.”
Rico acknowledged that “what happened to (Thomas) was tragic,” but told jurors that Thomas “would still be alive if she hadn’t ingested cocaine that caused her heart to stop pumping.”
O’Callaghan — who was relieved of duty without pay — was criminally charged in October 2013 after an investigation by the LAPD.
— City News Service