Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a handcuffed woman — who later died — was kicked and shoved out of frustration by a female Los Angeles police officer, who was trying to help her colleagues secure the suspect in the back of a patrol car.

The officer’s attorney countered that she employed reasonable force by using her left foot to push the woman into the vehicle.

Mary O’Callaghan, 50, is charged with a felony count of assault by a public officer involving her July 22, 2012, interaction with arrestee Alesia Thomas in the 9100 block of South Broadway Avenue.

Thomas, who lost consciousness in the patrol car, was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. O’Callaghan is not charged in connection with the 35-year-old woman’s death.

Cocaine intoxication was likely a “major factor” in Thomas’ death, according to autopsy findings, though the coroner’s report lists the cause of death as undetermined.

Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby told the 11- woman, one-man jury that O’Callaghan believed Thomas was “faking her distress” when she complained that her chest and legs hurt and that she needed an ambulance, and that O’Callaghan thought the woman might be “still faking it” after she lost consciousness.

“The defendant didn’t believe her. The evidence will show the defendant kicked first and asked questions later,” the prosecutor said in his opening statement.

O’Callaghan grew frustrated when the 6’1″, 228-pound woman would not comply with her orders as she tried to adjust a restraint around the woman’s legs, Presby said.

The prosecutor said jurors would be asked to determine if O’Callaghan’s actions were necessary, telling the panel that the evidence would show that it was “frustration and anger that led the defendant to shove and kick Ms. Thomas.”

Other officers — who are not charged in connection with Thomas’ arrest – – had been sent earlier to Thomas’ home after her two children walked without an adult into the lobby of the LAPD’s Southeast Area station, the prosecutor said. The officers who responded believed that Thomas was under the influence of some type of controlled substance, and a decision was made to arrest her for allegedly abandoning her children, according to Presby.

Jurors heard the woman say, “I can’t move. I can’t breathe,” in videotaped footage from the back of the patrol car.

O’Callaghan’s attorney, Robert Rico, told jurors that his client used “reasonable” and “necessary” force that did not constitute assault by a public officer. He said he would ask jurors to acquit his client.

“The video will be played over and over for you,” the defense lawyer said, telling the panel that jurors will understand that she was acting reasonably in performing her duties.

O’Callaghan and a trainee working with her responded to the scene as back-up officers after other officers had difficulty handcuffing Thomas, moving her downstairs to the patrol car as she “continued to resist” and getting her in the back seat, Rico told jurors.

He said it was “reasonable” for O’Callaghan to “push Ms. Thomas into the vehicle with her foot in a thrusting motion.”

“There were no kicks. There were no punches,” O’Callaghan’s attorney said, while acknowledging that his client had used foul language during the encounter while attempting to get the woman — who was later determined to have “acute cocaine intoxication” — to comply.

O’Callaghan — who was relieved of duty without pay — was criminally charged in October 2013 after an investigation by the LAPD.

Shortly after the charges were filed, Rico said he was “shocked” by the prosecution’s decision to file a case against the 19-year LAPD veteran and retired Marine, saying that he believed her actions were within “policy” and that she was acting in response to Thomas’ actions.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that O’Callaghan’s actions, “as seen on the video, did not meet the expectations I have of our officers in the field.”

“As troubling as this case is, it demonstrates that our system of discovering misconduct is working, and that we will hold our officers accountable for their actions,” Beck said. “Every single day LAPD officers are asked to do extraordinary things for people while proudly wearing the LAPD badge. I hope the community recognizes that the act of one officer cannot and should not be an overall reflection of this department,” the police chief said.

If convicted as charged, O’Callaghan could face up to three years in state prison.

City News Service

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