Trial for an LAPD officer accused of assault under color of authority for allegedly kicking a handcuffed woman, who later died in custody, started Wednesday, with two vastly different portrayals of the victim.
Defense attorneys described Alesia Thomas a woman who abandoned her children while she was high on drugs and then resisted arrest. Prosecutors said she was a caring mother who took her children to a police station with a basket of clean clothes and a note with their grandmother's phone number.
For the first time, the public also saw graphic patrol car dash cam video that showed veteran Officer Officer Mary O'Callaghan allegedly violently kicking the victim in the groin and stomach.
This case stems from the July 2012 arrest of Alesia Thomas, a mother who had dropped off her two children, 3 and 12, at the LAPD's Southwest Station because she was unable to care for them. According to a second account, Thomas, a drug user who had mental illness, intended to pick up her kids.
Nevertheless, officers went to Thomas' apartment to arrest her on charges of child abandonment.
Thomas, 35, was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
"At the time O'Callaghan shoved and kicked her, Ms. Thomas was handcuffed behind her back and her legs were hobbled together. She wasn't going anywhere," Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby told jurors.
Presby said Thomas told police 20 times she couldn't stand up or breathe and asked for an ambulance, but police thought she was faking it.
On the dashcam footage, O'Callaghan can be seen smoking a cigarette as Thomas was unconscious in the back seat of a patrol car.
O'Callaghan's attorney emphasized she's not on trial for Thomas' death or for the foul language she used to describe how and where she would kick her and that she was only trying to help her.
"Kill me already," Thomas can be heard saying on the video.
"I don't want to kill you. I just want to transport you," O'Callaghan responded, to which Thomas asked why.
"To get you some help," O'Callaghan can be heard saying.
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Although the official cause of death was listed as undetermined, the Los Angeles County Coroner determined that cocaine intoxication probably was "a major factor" in Thomas' death. The medical examiner could not determine whether the force used by the officer played a role in her death.
The Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, agreed with Chief Charlie Beck's conclusion in a report that kicks employed were "ineffective and inappropriate."
"When any officer is suspected of going beyond the law, the LAPD will thoroughly investigate the allegations and work closely with the District Attorney's Office to bring charges where appropriate," said Chief Charlie Beck in a statement after O'Callaghan was discharged from the department. "In this case, the LAPD's investigation led directly to the charges being presented in a court of law and we await the justice system's determination based on the evidence in the case."