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More details emerge in death of woman in LAPD custody

LAPD

Andres Aguila/KPCC

LAPD is facing new allegations of excessive force, after a woman died in police custody.

On July 22, Alesia Thomas stopped breathing while she was in the back of an LAPD patrol car. Officers called paramedics and Thomas was rushed to Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, where she was pronounced dead. 

Now the question for Internal Affairs investigators at LAPD is whether Thomas died as a result of officer actions, and if she did, whether those actions were justified by the situation. According to LAPD, officers used force when they arrested Thomas, who they say was uncooperative, on suspicion of child endangerment.

According to LAPD, officers at the Southeast Station found two boys, 3 and 12, sitting on a bench by the station. 

"We interviewed the kids. They said they hadn't eaten anything in a couple of days, so we of course got food for them from a local restaurant, and did a follow-up to their house to find out what the story was with the mother," said LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.

When officers arrived at the home, they spoke with Thomas, the mother, who had allegedly dropped the boys at the station because she couldn't care for them. Officers decided to arrest Thomas on charges of child endangerment, and when she allegedly resisted, one officer "performed a leg sweep and took Thomas to the ground to gain control of her." Officers handcuffed her, called for backup, and as Thomas continued to resist, she was put in a hobble restraint, essentially a wrap around her ankles.

The L.A. Times has additional details of the detention, which LAPD will not confirm: specifically, the Times reports that a female officer "stomped" Thomas in the groin and insulted her. The Times also interviewed witnesses who say officers acted professionally and were trying to help Thomas.

Smith said it's not unusual for four or more officers to get involved in an arrest when dealing with a resisting suspect. When asked about the reported kick, Smith said "I know that in the academy, we do still train people to use kicks," though he did not know whether a kick would have been justified in this instance. As for the alleged insult, Smith said sometimes officers use "street language" when arresting suspects, and that if the officer in question acted improperly, she would be held accountable.

All five officers at the scene have been taken off street duty and are assigned to administrative tasks pending the outcome of the investigation and the coroner's report. 

The Los Angeles County Coroner, which is still awaiting results of toxicology tests, has not yet determined Thomas' cause of death. 

Thomas's children were referred to the Department of Child and Family Services. 

Smith said it's "unusual" to find abandoned children at police stations, but "it happens occassionally."

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