Jury is told cop ‘im­mune from any em­pa­thy’

Pros­e­cu­tor says video shows LAPD of­fi­cer as­sault­ing woman, who died af­ter ar­rest.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Marisa Ger­ber marisa.ger­ber @la­times.com Twit­ter: @maris­ager­ber

Min­utes af­ter jab­bing her boot into the stom­ach and crotch of a hand­cuffed woman who slipped into un­con­scious­ness in the back of a pa­trol car and even­tu­ally died, an LAPD of­fi­cer lighted a cig­a­rette and laughed be­cause she had be­come “so hard­ened,” a pros­e­cu­tor told ju­rors Mon­day.

As­sis­tant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Shan­non Presby said the of­fi­cer ap­peared “im­mune from any em­pa­thy” dur­ing the 2012 ar­rest of Ale­sia Thomas.

“This is a po­lice of­fi­cer that is so cyn­i­cal about the peo­ple she po­lices, she de­hu­man­izes them,” Presby said dur­ing closing state­ments in Of­fi­cer Mary O’Cal­laghan’s as­sault trial.

Af­ter play­ing a squad-car video that cap­tured O’Cal­laghan strik­ing at Thomas’ throat with an out­stretched hand and threat­en­ing her, the pros­e­cu­tor asked ju­rors to con­vict O’Cal­laghan of as­sault un­der the color of author­ity, say­ing the of­fi­cer had crossed a line into crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.

But O’Cal­laghan’s at­tor­ney, Robert Rico, said that while the footage shows an “ugly” scene — a term that, he said, de­scribes most po­lice work — his client’s use of force wasn’t ex­ces­sive. He told ju­rors that Thomas was flail­ing wildly and re­fus­ing to fol­low or­ders, de­scrib­ing his client’s ac­tions as “nec­es­sary.”

He placed blame, at least in part, on the su­per­vi­sor at the scene, Sgt. James Mu­niz. Rico said Mu­niz should have taken bet­ter com­mand of the sit­u­a­tion and noted that he was de­moted af­ter the in­ci­dent. An LAPD spokes­woman said the depart­ment doesn’t dis­cuss dis­ci­plinary mat­ters, but said Mu­niz is cur­rently listed as an of­fi­cer.

Rico played an au­dio record­ing for ju­rors, which he said showed his client didn’t want to hurt Thomas, a 35year-old mother.

“If you want to kill me, just kill me,” Thomas said in the record­ing.

“I don’t want to kill you,” O’Cal­laghan re­sponded. “I just want to trans­port you.” “Why?” Thomas asked. “To get you some help,” the of­fi­cer said.

But the pros­e­cu­tor said the squad-car video — which he played sev­eral times dur­ing the trial — told a fuller ver­sion of the story.

The footage shows O’Cal­laghan strike at Thomas’ throat and jam her boot into the other woman’s crotch, a tar­geted move “to cause pain,” Presby said.

A minute or two later, Thomas loses con­scious- ness. O’Cal­laghan peeks in­side the pa­trol car, takes a drag from her cig­a­rette and says: “I don’t think she’s breath­ing.”

Presby shook his head and turned to the ju­rors. “Where is the line if not here?” he asked, his voice swelling to a hoarse shout. “The line was crossed in this case.”

Thomas was pro­nounced dead at a hos­pi­tal fol­low­ing her July 22, 2012, ar­rest, which came af­ter of­fi­cers ar­rived at her home to in­ves­ti­gate claims that she had aban­doned her two chil­dren af­ter they were dropped off at a po­lice sta­tion.

Dur­ing the trial, an of­fi­cer who ar­rived at Thomas’ home sev­eral min­utes be­fore O’Cal­laghan tes­ti­fied that of­fi­cers didn’t call for an am­bu­lance for more than 30 min­utes af­ter Thomas first asked for one, say­ing they be­lieved she was feign­ing med­i­cal dis­tress.

Rico re­minded ju­rors Mon­day that O’Cal­laghan, 50, was not charged in con­nec­tion with Thomas’ death.

An au­topsy by the L.A. County coro­ner’s of­fice de- ter­mined that co­caine in­tox­i­ca­tion was prob­a­bly “a ma­jor fac­tor” in Thomas’ death.

It wasn’t pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine what role, if any, the strug­gle played in her death, and the of­fi­cial cause of death was listed as “un­de­ter­mined.”

The jury will fin­ish hear­ing in­struc­tions on Tues­day and is ex­pected to begin de­lib­er­a­tions af­ter­ward.

Con­gress­woman Max­ine Wa­ters at­tended the court pro­ceed­ings Mon­day, say­ing out­side the court­room that she hopes to in­vig­o­rate “a sus­tained dis­cus­sion about the prob­lems be­tween the po­lice com­mu­nity and the com­mu­nity.”

“The videos are very telling,” she said. “The videos will in­form the ju­rors.”

For Thomas’ un­cle, A.C. Moses Jr., watch­ing the video in court felt like tor­ture, he said. When Presby played the footage last week, Moses closed his eyes and let his face fall into his hands.

“That’s killing me,” he said out­side court.

He looked down at a pic­ture of Thomas printed on his T-shirt and whis­pered to him­self: “God doesn’t make mis­takes.”

‘Where is the line if not here? The line was crossed in this case.’

— Shan­non Presby, as­sis­tant head deputy dis­trict at­tor­ney

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