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LAPD investigates officers' use of force in woman's death

At least five Los Angeles police officers are under investigation in the death of a woman who suffocated after an officer stomped on her genital area and others used additional force to take her into custody, police officials confirmed Thursday.

The altercation in front of her South Los Angeles apartment was captured by a patrol car’s video camera.

When asked by The Times about the incident, LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green confirmed that one officer, while trying to get Alesia Thomas into the back of a patrol car, told her something along the lines of “get your fat ass in the car.”

The female officer then threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals if she did not comply, Green confirmed, and the officer followed through on her threat.

After officers forced her into the back seat of the police car, Thomas is also seen on the video breathing shallowly and she eventually stopped breathing.

"I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement late Thursday. "I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us."

The incident comes a day after Beck announced he was transferring a captain from his command after a separate videotaped incident in which two officers were shown slamming a handcuffed woman to the ground. Beck had said that video raised concerns and that the department was investigating the officers.

The Thomas case occurred July 22 after she had left her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at the LAPD’s Southeast Area station, according to an account of the death the department released the following day.

The LAPD’s official account does not explain why Thomas left the children. When asked about the incident by The Times, Green, who oversees the Southeast Area station, confirmed that Thomas had tried to surrender custody of the children to police because she was a drug addict and felt she could not care for them.

Officers went in search of Thomas, finding her at her home in the 9000 block of South Broadway. After questioning her briefly, the officers attempted to arrest Thomas on suspicion of child endangerment, the department’s account said.

Thomas “began actively resisting arrest” as officers attempted to take her into custody and one of the officers took her to the ground by sweeping her legs out from beneath her, the LAPD’s official account said. Two other officers then handcuffed Thomas behind her back and attempted to lead her to a patrol car while a supervising sergeant observed, according to the department’s version of the incident.

Two more officers were summoned to the scene as Thomas continued to struggle. Green confirmed that Thomas was a very large woman. A “hobble restraint device” – an adjustable strap – was tightened around Thomas' ankles to give the officers more control over her and she was eventually placed in the back of the patrol car, the LAPD account said.

The official account, however, made no mention of what Green confirmed was a female officer’s questionable treatment of Thomas.

The department’s official account said the officers immediately notified paramedics. It is unclear whether the officers attempted to resuscitate her and how much time passed before paramedics arrived to render medical aid. Thomas died shortly after being transported to a hospital.

Beck's statement said he wanted to find out whether Thomas had been under the influence of any drugs or suffered from a medical condition that could have caused her death before he passed judgment on the officers.

Four police officers and the sergeant were removed from field duties immediately after the incident and investigators from the department’s Internal Affairs unit opened an investigation into the death, Green said. One arm of the investigation will collect evidence prosecutors will consider when deciding whether to bring criminal charges against any of the officers, while another will look into whether the officers violated the department’s policies on using force and other aspects of taking a suspect into custody.

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--Joel Rubin

 
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