A Los Angeles Police Department officer accused of kicking a handcuffed woman -- who later died -- during an arrest pleaded not guilty Tuesday to an assault charge.
Officer Mary O'Callaghan, 48, was charged Wednesday in connection with the July 2012 arrest of a mother suspected of child abandonment. The 35-year-old woman later died at a hospital.
The 19-year LAPD veteran was ordered to Los Angeles Superior Court Dec. 5. She did not comment to reporters Tuesday as she left court, but her attorney said he is "shocked" and his client is "devastated" over the charge.
"Mary is devastated that the people filed one count against her," said attorney Robert Rico. "She is a dedicated mother, a 19-year veteran of the LAPD, a retired Marine. She's used to fighting for herself and looks forward to fighting for herself in court."
A camera inside an LAPD patrol vehicle captured the arrest of Alesia Thomas on video, which is under a protective order. Officers responded to her South Broadway Avenue home July 22, 2012 after her two children were found at a police station.
Thomas was placed in leg restraints and handcuffs, then brought to a patrol car. The car's camera captured video of O'Callaghan kicking the woman in the stomach and groin area, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.
The video shows that the degree of force "was reasonable," according to Rico.
"It was minimal in light of the action of three arrestee," he said.
Thomas lost consciousness in the back of the vehicle and officers called for paramedics. She later died at a hospital.
A coroner's report characterized the 6-foot, 228-pound Thomas' death as "undetermined." The autopsy report mentioned cocaine intoxication as a "major" contributing factor, and also indicated that the struggle with officers "could not be excluded" as a contributing factor.
The district attorney declined to file a more serious charge of involuntary manslaughter, citing insufficient evidence that the officer's actions caused Thomas' death.
O'Callaghan was removed from duty and is awaiting an LAPD disciplinary hearing. If convicted, O'Callaghan could spend up to three years in state prison.
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