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Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Mary O'Callaghan Police Brutality Case

     The vast majority of police brutality complaints are filed against male officers. While this is not surprising since most officers are men, when it comes to the use of physical force, male officers tend to be more physically aggressive than their female counterparts. Out of the thousands of excessive force complaints filed against male officers, only a handful result in civil court settlements. Even fewer of these cases lead to criminal prosecutions.

     Female police officers are rarely sued for excessive force, and almost never prosecuted for police brutality. But in Los Angeles, a female cop was charged with felony assault in connection with the beating of an arrestee named Alesia Thomas.

     On July 22, 2012, 35-year-old Alesia Thomas left her two children outside the Southeast Police Station in South Los Angeles. Suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and drug addiction, Thomas knew she couldn't take care of her kids who were age three and twelve. She felt she had no choice but to leave her children at the police station.

     Police officers arrested Thomas that day at her home on charges of child abandonment. As officer Mary O'Callaghan struggled to put the arrestee--wearing handcuffs and leg restraints--into the patrol car, she was caught on another cruiser's dashboard camera kicking Thomas in the stomach and groin area. The police officer, a former Marine and 19 year veteran of the force, was also recorded punching Thomas in the neck.

     The arresting officers at Thomas' house called for medical assistance after she lost consciousness in the back of the patrol car. Notwithstanding the efforts of the responding paramedics, Thomas died a short time later at the hospital.

     A police administrator, pending an internal departmental investigation, placed O'Callaghan on unpaid leave.

     The forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who performed Thomas' autopsy listed cocaine intoxication as a "major factor" in her death. Because the pathologist was unable to assess what role, if any, being kicked and punched by officer O'Callaghan played in the arrestee's death, Thomas' official cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     In the course of the internal affairs investigation, detectives learned that two of the arresting officers that day had disregarded Thomas' request for medical help. Moreover, a third officer at the scene may have lied to investigators looking into the incident. According to the internal affairs inquiry, a police sergeant involved with the case had failed to provide supervisory leadership. In other words, there may have been a cover-up.

     On October 9, 2013, a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney charged officer Mary O'Callaghan with felony assault. The ambivalence regarding Thomas' cause of death ruled out the charge of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, O'Callaghan faced a maximum prison sentence of three years. Following her arrest she was released on $35,000 bail.

     In speaking to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, the dead woman's mother, Sandra Thomas, lamented the time it took to charge O'Callaghan with a crime. "I am sure," Thomas said, "that Charlie Beck [the chief of police] saw this [dashboard] video long ago. I would like to see that video. They're charging that officer, but what about all of the other officers involved? They did nothing to stop this."

    On June 5, 2015, a jury of eleven women and one man found the former police officer guilty of felony assault by a police officer. Following her conviction, O'Callaghan asked the judge to send her directly to jail where she would start serving her sentence.

     The trial judge, on July 25, 2015, sentenced O'Callaghan to three years behind bars. The judge then suspended twenty months of the sentence. That meant the former police officer would spend about 16 months in the Los Angeles County lockup.

     Had the forensic pathologist in the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined the manner of death in this case to be homicide, O'Callahan might have been convicted of criminal homicide and sentenced to a lot more time.

     

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