The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating why a 35-year-old mother died last month while she was in custody of officers after an arrest recorded by an in-car camera, according to an LAPD statement released late Thursday.
"I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. "I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us."
Alesia Thomas was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment after her two children – ages 3 and 12 – were found abandoned at LAPD Southeast Area Station at about 2 a.m. on July 22.
Officers found Thomas at a residence in the 9000 block of South Broadway. After questioning her, officers tried to take her into custody and she "began actively resisting arrest," LAPD officials said.
"One officer preformed a leg sweep and took Thomas to the ground to gain control of her. Two other officers then handcuffed Thomas behind her back. After the arrival of a police sergeant from Southeast Division the officers walked Thomas to their police vehicle," the statement read.
Thomas continued to struggle with the officers and another unit was called, officials said. Her ankles were put in a "hobble restraint" – an adjustable strap – and she was placed in a seated position in the back of the squad car.
Within minutes, Thomas appeared to stop breathing and paramedics were called. She was transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Four police officers and the sergeant were removed from field duties pending an internal investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported, adding that a female officer kicked Thomas in the genitals after threatening the act if the suspect did not comply.
"I just want them to tell the truth about what happened," said Ada Moses, Thomas's grandmother.
"I can't sleep at night," Moses said. "My granddaughter was so good to me, come get me and buy stuff for me all the time."
LAPD Deputy Bob Green confirmed to the Times that Thomas had tried to surrender custody of her children because she was a drug addict and felt she could not care for them.
LAPD’s Force Investigation Division is conducting an administrative and criminal investigation into Thomas’ death, officials said. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division and the Office of the Inspector General are also investigating.
The news comes a day after Beck announced he had downgraded a police commander at Foothill Area Division for a separate instance of alleged excessive use of force. In that case, two of the commander's officers are seen on surveillance video knocking a handcuffed woman to the ground after pulling her over for allegedly using her cellphone while driving.