LOS ANGELES — A 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 up to three years in prison when she is
sentenced July 23.
Jurors deliberated all day Tuesday and Wednesday, but did not meet Thursday. They resumed deliberations Friday and announced by mid-morning they had reached a verdict.
The charge stemmed from the July 22, 2012, arrest of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas in the 9100 block of South Broadway Avenue.
“The family would like to thank [Deputy] District Attorney Shannon Presby for his dedicated service in ensuring Mary O’Callaghan was finally brought to justice and the jurors for having the courage and conviction to convict a police officer of abuse which rarely happens,” said activist Najee Ali, serving as a spokesman for the Thomas family.
“Hopefully this will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies that if you betray the trust of the community and engage in any form of brutality you will be brought to justice.
“Finally, this isn’t a moment to celebrate. Alesia’s life is gone forever and O’Callaghan is now a convicted felon. We have two families whose lives will never be the same. This is simply a matter of having closure for the family.”
Thomas, who lost consciousness in the patrol car, was pronounced dead at a hospital. 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.
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.
None of the other officers used unreasonable force, Presby said, though they earlier used a leg sweep to trip Thomas to the ground and handcuff her.
The other officers — who are not charged in connection with Thomas’ arrest — had been sent to Thomas’ home after her two children walked into the lobby of the LAPD’s Southeast Area 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 misinformation as evidence that the officers knew O’Callaghan “had gone too far” but chose to hide behind the “blue wall of silence.”
Defense attorney Robert Rico agreed that the real question for the jury was whether or not the force O’Callaghan used was reasonable under the circumstances.
The defense attorney said O’Callaghan, an 18-year veteran, was called as backup to assist in getting the 6-foot-1-inch Thomas, who weighed 228 pounds, into the patrol car.
She was there “to serve and to protect” while the rest of us were sleeping soundly, Rico told jurors.
Thomas, who was high on cocaine and almost unrecognizable to a neighbor that night, kicked the door of the patrol car and refused to get in, the defense attorney told jurors.
“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.