L.A. off icer con­victed of as­sault

Pa­trol-car video of woman get­ting hit and kicked dur­ing her 2012 ar­rest ‘played a big role’ in jury’s ver­dict.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Marisa Ger­ber and Brit­tny Me­jia

The cam­era cap­tured the Los An­ge­les po­lice of­fi­cer hiss­ing a cruel threat at the hand­cuffed woman, strik­ing at her throat with an open hand and kick­ing her in the crotch.

The video of the ar­rest, recorded by a pa­trol-car cam­era, per­suaded ju­rors to con­vict Of­fi­cer Mary O’Cal­laghan on Fri­day of as­sault un­der color of author­ity.

Dur­ing the two-week trial, in which the de­fense ar­gued that O’Cal­laghan hadn’t used ex­ces­sive force, the video gave ju­rors an un­var­nished view of what hap­pened, one said.

“It played a big role,” said Dee­dra Garcia, the jury fore­woman. “It gave us a lot of ev­i­dence.”

In a crowded court­room Fri­day, O’Cal­laghan, 50, rested her head in her hands and her at­tor­ney rubbed small cir­cles on her back. A rel­a­tive of Ale­sia Thomas, the 35-year-old mother as­saulted by O’Cal­laghan who lost con­scious­ness in the back seat of the pa­trol car and died soon later, tapped her left foot over and over. The ju­rors — 11 women and one man — walked to their seats.

When a clerk read the guilty ver­dict, O’Cal­laghan whis­pered to her at­tor­ney and gave him a hug. Her face red­dened and her eyes filled with tears. She no­ticed a bailiff stand­ing be­hind her and swooped her hands be­hind her back, hold­ing them in two fists — a po­si­tion she had, for years, com­manded ar­restees to as­sume. The court­room fell si­lent and the hand­cuffs clicked four times as they closed around her wrists.

Reached by phone af­ter the ver­dict, Phillip Wash­ing­ton — the fa­ther of Thomas’ youngest daugh­ter — said the 2012 death dev­as­tated the fam­ily, es­pe­cially his daugh­ter, who was 3 when her mother died. He couldn’t at­tend the court pro­ceed­ing Fri­day be­cause his daugh­ter felt sick, but he praised the ver­dict.

“I’m hop­ing the out­come of this is that the sys­tem will change,” he said.

A state­ment re­leased by Benjamin Crump, a civil rights at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily, called the con­vic­tion one step to­ward jus­tice for Thomas’ chil­dren.

“Our fam­ily prays,” the state­ment reads, “that the

unedited video will be re­leased soon.”

The pros­e­cu­tion’s case cen­tered on the video, which showed O’Cal­laghan jab at Thomas’ throat with an open hand and threaten to break her arms and kick her in the crotch. In the video, O’Cal­laghan then raises her boot and strikes Thomas, whose body shakes in re­sponse.

The record­ing cap­tured Thomas — who asked of­fi­cers for an am­bu­lance more than 30 min­utes be­fore one was called — breath­ing heav­ily and re­peat­edly say­ing, “I can’t.”

A video from a dash­board cam­era in an­other pa­trol car, which was also played dur­ing the trial, recorded O’Cal­laghan laugh­ing and smok­ing a cig­a­rette as she peeked in­side the car at Thomas, whose legs were tied with a ny­lon hob­ble re­straint.

“That ain’t a good sign,” O’Cal­laghan says out loud in the video.

As­sis­tant Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Shan­non Presby told ju­rors that O’Cal­laghan was “im­mune from any em­pa­thy” and that the video clearly showed the of­fi­cer kick­ing Thomas in the crotch and the stom­ach.

But O’Cal­laghan’s at­tor­ney, Robert Rico, dis­agreed, telling ju­rors that the record­ing in­stead showed his client push­ing Thomas with her boot.

Rico told ju­rors that although the footage showed an “ugly” scene, his client’s use of force was “rea­son­able, jus­ti­fied and nec­es­sary.” Thomas wasn’t com­ply­ing with the of­fi­cers’ or­ders, he said.

The at­tor­ney played an au­dio clip, which he said showed O’Cal­laghan didn’t want to hurt Thomas, for the ju­rors.

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

“I don’t want to kill you,” O’Cal­laghan re­sponds. “I just want to trans­port you.” “Why?” Thomas asks. “To get you some help,” the of­fi­cer says in the record­ing.

Af­ter the ver­dict, Rico said he planned to file a mo­tion for a new trial, say­ing he be­lieved ju­rors had based their de­ci­sion on emo­tions — and his client’s pro­fan­ity cap­tured on cam­era — not on ev­i­dence. Rico de­scribed O’Cal­laghan as far from cal­lous, say­ing she of­ten bought Hal­loween cos­tumes and Christ­mas presents for chil­dren in lo­cal hous­ing projects.

“Mary O’Cal­laghan is to­day — and was — the type of of­fi­cer that goes above and be­yond, not only for her fel­low of­fi­cers but also for the com­mu­nity,” Rico said.

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

Wash­ing­ton, the fa­ther of Thomas’ daugh­ter, said he thought Thomas acted re­spon­si­bly, adding that she had dropped the chil­dren off at the sta­tion with clothes and a note. His daugh­ter, he said, still doesn’t know how Thomas died.

“She was too young then to un­der­stand,” he said. “I’m wait­ing for her to have ques­tions of her own.”

O’Cal­laghan, who did not tes­tify in the trial, was not charged in con­nec­tion with Thomas’ death.

An au­topsy by the Los An­ge­les County coro­ner determined that co­caine in- tox­i­ca­tion was prob­a­bly a “ma­jor fac­tor” in Thomas’ death. It wasn’t pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine what role, if any, the strug­gle with O’Cal­laghan or other of­fi­cers who took part in the ar­rest played in it. The of­fi­cial cause of death was listed as “un­de­ter­mined.”

O’Cal­laghan is one of three Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment of­fi­cers charged with as­sault un­der the color of author­ity for on-duty in­ci­dents cap­tured on cam­era. In April, Of­fi­cer Richard Garcia, 34, was charged with us­ing un­law­ful force dur­ing an ar­rest in South L.A. Of­fi­cer Jonathan Lai, 31, was charged last year with us­ing ex­ces­sive force while detaining a man near Sta­ples Cen­ter in 2012.

Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck said in a state­ment Fri­day that pa­trol car cam­eras, when used ap­pro­pri­ately, “can help en­sure that of­fi­cers who op­er­ate out­side of the law, and tar­nish our badge, are held accountable.”

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

OF­FI­CER Mary O’Cal­laghan’s at­tor­ney ar­gued that her use of force was “jus­ti­fied and nec­es­sary.”

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

OF­FI­CER Mary O’Cal­laghan hugs at­tor­ney Robert Rico af­ter the ver­dict was read. Rico said he planned to file a mo­tion for a new trial be­cause he thought ju­rors had based their de­ci­sion on emo­tions, not ev­i­dence.

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