LAPD Chief faults officers' actions during fatal arrest of woman

June 27, 2013|By Joel Rubin
  • Ada Moses holds a photo of her granddaughter, Alesia Thomas, 35, and great-granddaughter as she speaks during a news conference.
Ada Moses holds a photo of her granddaughter, Alesia Thomas, 35, and great-granddaughter… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was sharply critical of how several officers acted during an arrest last year in which a woman died during a prolonged struggle with the police, department records show.

In a report to the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, Beck concluded that a veteran female officer violated department policies when she repeatedly used her feet to kick or shove Alesia Thomas in her genitals and midsection. The same officer, the chief and the commission found, showed "apparent indifference" toward Thomas as she cursed at the mother of two young children during the messy effort to restrain her and place her in the back of a police cruiser.

Beck also raised concerns about the actions of three additional officers and a supervisor during the July 22 confrontation in South L.A. Two of the officers disregarded Thomas' request for medical help, while the third cop may have lied to investigators about the incident, Beck wrote in his report. A sergeant who responded to the scene may have failed to properly supervise and direct the officers during their increasingly ugly attempts to detain the woman, according to the report.

Following the chief's findings, the department opened formal internal investigations against the officers and sergeant, which could result in them being disciplined. The district attorney's office, meanwhile, is reviewing the case for possible criminal charges, said Cmdr. Andy Smith, a spokesman for Beck.

The officers and sergeant have been reassigned to other stations and all except one have been removed from the field pending the conclusion of the investigations, Smith said. The officers' identities have not been released because state law keeps issues related to police misconduct confidential.

In a unanimous vote during a closed-door meeting this week, the five-member Police Commission agreed with the chief's finding that the female officer's forceful use of her feet was "ineffective and inappropriate," according to a commission report on the incident.

An autopsy by the L.A. County coroner determined that cocaine intoxication probably was "a major factor" in Thomas' death. It was impossible to determine what role, if any, the struggle with the officers played in the 35-year-old woman's death. Because of that uncertainty, the official cause of death was listed as "undetermined."

The Times reported previously on the alleged kicks by the female officer and Thomas' odd decision to abandon her children outside the LAPD's Southeast area station, which led to the fatal confrontation with police.

Hours before she died, Thomas, who suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and drug addiction according to the autopsy report, had left her children, a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old, outside the station, according to a department account of the incident.

Initially, police reported that Thomas was attempting to surrender the children to police custody because she felt she could no longer care for them properly. In his report, however, Beck said, it appeared Thomas expected her mother to pick the children up at the station.

Officers went in search of Thomas and found her at her home in the 9000 block of South Broadway in South L.A. After questioning her, the officers were ordered by a lieutenant at the station to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment, according to Beck's account.

Thomas resisted the officers as they attempted to place her in handcuffs. When the female officer and her partner arrived to assist, the four officers attempted to restrain Thomas and then tried to push and pull her into the back of a patrol car as she continued to struggle.

Although a video camera in the car captured much of the incident, Beck and the commission said it could not be determined whether the female officer maliciously kicked Thomas or shoved her foot into the woman's groin area in an effort to move her into the car, as the officer claimed. Either way, Beck found, the officer should have realized the use of her feet was not working and was wrong.

The department has refused requests from The Times for a copy of the video, citing the ongoing investigations. Beck declined to comment on his findings.


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Twitter: @joelrubin

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