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5 LAPD officers probed in mother's death; some urge caution

September 1, 2012 |  8:12 am

A death in police custody

As officials investigation five Los Angeles police officers in connection with a deadly altercation with a South Los Angeles mother, some are urging against a rush to judgment against the officers.

The case is getting wide media attention, though officials said there were many unanswered questions.

"This is a rush to placate the media and people's desire for a statement," Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said. "It is the chief's job not only to not ignore allegations but not prejudge allegations."

The case focuses on the death of Alesia Thomas.

On July 22, Thomas left her children, ages 3 and 12, at the LAPD's Southeast station. LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said Thomas dropped the children off in front of the station and told them to go inside. LAPD Cmdr. Bob Green told The Times on Thursday that Thomas told police she was a drug addict and felt she could not care for them.

Officers later went to her home. After questioning her briefly, they attempted to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment. Police and one witness told The Times that Thomas violently resisted arrest.

According to an LAPD account, one officer took her to the ground by sweeping her legs from beneath her. Two others handcuffed Thomas' hands behind her back and attempted to lead her to a patrol car while a supervising sergeant observed, according to the department's version, officials said.

Two more officers were summoned as Thomas continued to struggle. A "hobble restraint device" — an adjustable strap — was tightened around Thomas' ankles to give the officers more control and she was eventually placed in the back of the patrol car, the LAPD account said.

The altercation was captured by a patrol car's video camera.

Green confirmed Thursday that one officer, while trying to get Thomas into the back of a patrol car, threatened to kick her in the genitals if she did not comply, and then followed through on the threat. The officer also used crude language about Thomas' weight while attempting to get her into the car, Green added.

After officers forced Thomas into the back seat of the police car, she is seen on the video breathing shallowly; she eventually stopped breathing and died at the scene.

The coroner's office has deferred findings on the cause of Thomas' death until toxicology tests are completed, a routine practice in such cases.

On Friday, Thomas' family demanded answers.

Her aunt, Eileen Ribera Arthur, said she was too distraught to speak in detail to a reporter Friday afternoon.

"They killed my niece!" she told a friend who drove down the street outside her home. "They stomped her .... the police killed her."

Arthur said she wasn't sure whether the family had hired an attorney, but she made reference to meetings with representatives of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"The bottom line is, Alesia was a good person, a beautiful person," Arthur added. "I just want her back, I really do."

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Friday he's pleased with the way the LAPD has handled the investigations so far.

In the Thomas case, he noted that the in-car police video that captured the incident will be the key piece of evidence in the investigation.

-- Sam Allen, Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Ada Moses holds a photo of granddaughter Alesia Thomas, 35, who died in police custody. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times