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A Los Angeles Police Department patrol car.
An LAPD officer accused of kicking a woman during an arrest — the woman later died — has been charged with assault and could face up to three years in prison if convicted, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office announced Thursday.
Police officer Mary O’Callaghan, 48, was recorded by a patrol car video camera kicking Alesia Thomas in the stomach and groin area and pushing her in the throat, according to a statement from the DA. The incident occurred on July 22, 2012 when LAPD officers were sent to Thomas' house on South Broadway to investigate "possible child abandonment," according to the DA.
Thomas, 35, was subsequently arrested and placed in the back of the patrol car. She then lost consciousness and was transported by paramedics to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to the DA.
“The officer’s actions that day, as seen on the video, did not meet the expectations I have of our officers in the field," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. "As troubling as this case is, it demonstrates that our system of discovering misconduct is working, and that we will hold our officers accountable for their actions."
A police commission review of the incident found that O'Callaghan used unreasonable force on Thomas, who was restrained and in the backseat of a police cruiser. A coroner's report found the cause of Thomas' death to be “undetermined,” according to the DA.
“The internal investigative process works and civilian oversight works," said Police Commission Vice President Paula Madison. "In this incident, the misconduct was identified by the Department’s internal and criminal investigation."
But O’Callaghan's defense attorney, Robert Rico, said the case is purely political. He said he is “shocked” that the DA has decided to charge the 18-year veteran officer.
"It's clear from the evidence, it’s clear from the video, and it's clear with the DA's filing today that Officer O’Callaghan's contact with this person had nothing to do with her ending up deceased," said Rico.
Prosecutors decided not to file an involuntary manslaughter charge against O’Callaghan because they didn’t have enough evidence to prove the officer's actions caused Thomas’ death, according to the DA.
But Thomas’ mother, Sandra Thomas, said she couldn’t believe it’s taken so long to charge the officer — especially because of the video evidence.
“Why did they take so long to charge her? And not only that officer, why not charge all of them, because all of them had something to do with handling my daughter,” said Thomas. “So every one of them should be punished.”
The DA is asking that O’Callaghan's bail be set at $35,000. She's free until Tuesday when she is due in court for her arraignment, said Rico.
This story has been updated.