A former veteran Los Angeles police officer was sentenced Thursday to three years behind bars for kicking and shoving a handcuffed woman who later died, but a judge has suspended 20 months of the term, meaning Mary O'Callaghan will only have to serve about 16 months in county jail.
She's been given credit for already serving about three months.
O'Callaghan, 50, was given credit by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta for already serving about three months in custody. At her own request, O'Callaghan was taken into custody June 5, immediately following her conviction on a charge of assault by a public officer. She had been relieved of duty by the department.
In court Thursday, O'Callaghan apologized to the mother of the victim, 35-year-old Alesia Thomas.
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"Mother to mother, I am extremely sorry for the loss of your daughter," O'Callaghan said. "Not a day goes by that I don't pray for her. I pray for her every day. I pray for her children."
Thomas' mother then stood up and with tears streaming down her face asked O'Callaghan to walk toward her so she could give her a hug, but the judge stopped them, saying contact was not allowed. Families on both sides had tears in their eyes.
"I would love to forgive her, but I have to ask God to help me forgive her," Thomas' mother said in court.
The case against O'Callaghan stemmed from the July 22, 2012, arrest of 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.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck released a statement after the sentencing on Thursday.
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"As I expressed at the time, I was very concerned about this incident when it was first brought to light. It was our investigation that ultimately led to the criminal charges against her and now a prison sentence," Beck said in the statement. "It should be clear to everyone that the LAPD and the criminal justice system will hold officers accountable for their actions when they operate outside the law."
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.
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.
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.
Defense attorney Robert Rico said, however, that O'Callaghan believes "the force she used was reasonable and necessary based on the facts known to her at the time."
In his closing argument, Rico 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.
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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."
The defense attorney 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.
O'Callaghan — who was relieved of duty without pay — was criminally charged in October 2013 after an investigation by the LAPD. With this felony conviction, O'Callaghan will never be able to work in law enforcement again and she will lose her LAPD pension and benefits.