Mary O'Callaghan entered the courtroom in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday morning with her attorney, her sister, and a handful of colleagues from the Los Angeles Police Department.
O'Callaghan, a 19-year veteran of the LAPD and a former U.S. Marine, has been charged with assault under the color of authority for allegedly kicking and pushing a suspect ,who later died. Her attorney, Robert Rico, entered a not-guilty plea for her.
O'Callaghan was part of a group of officers who arrested Alesia Thomas on July 22, 2012 after Thomas left her two children at a police station in Southeast Los Angeles. According to an LAPD report, officers struggled to get an uncooperative Thomas into the back of a patrol car after she was handcuffed and in leg restraints. O'Callaghan allegedly cursed at Thomas and kicked her and pushed her in the groin with her foot.
Soon after, Thomas went into cardiac arrest and died. The L.A. County Coroner's Office could not determine Thomas's exact cause of death and whether or not police actions contributed to her death. The coroner did note cocaine intoxication as a "major factor."
Some of the incident was captured by cameras mounted on the dashboards of patrol cars. L.A. Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba ruled the videos will not be publicly released, at the request of the district attorney and defense.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Rico said he didn't want videos that show only a portion of the story floating around Youtube and creating bias in potential jurors. He also said his client's actions were appropriate.
"The amount of force used in this case was reasonable," Rico said. "It was minimal in light of the actions of the arrestee."
Rico said O'Callaghan will wage a full fight against the charges and will not pursue a plea deal. He characterized her as a well-loved officer in the Southeast district.
"I was shocked that the district attorney decided to file this count," Rico said. "I do not think – and I've talked to experts in the field – that this case amounts to excessive force."
Criminal filings against police officers for use of force are rare.
In 1991, four officers were charged with assault (and acquitted) in the beating of Rodney King. In 2007, LAPD Officer Sean Meade pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts after placing a teenager in a choke hold. He was sentenced to probation after agreeing to quit the department.
No other officers have been charged in the Thomas incident, though four officers potentially face departmental discipline for their actions, including two who failed to call an ambulance when Thomas said she needed medical help.
O'Callaghan has been relieved of duty without pay by the LAPD pending the outcome of a departmental hearing in March. She's next due in court December 5 to set a preliminary hearing date.