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Civil rights groups call for emergency meeting with LAPD chief

September 1, 2012 | 11:43 am

Civil rights activists on Saturday called for an emergency meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to review arrest and use-of-force policies after it was revealed this week that a woman had died during a confrontation with police in July outside her South Los Angeles home.

“The death of Alesia Thomas raises serious questions about the arrest and use of force officers use in child abuse cases,” Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said in a prepared statement. “This once more requires a thorough review of LAPD policies and procedures on the most effective and safe way to handle suspects in tense and sensitive situations.”

Ofari was one of several civil rights leaders and organizations who called for a meeting with Beck. Others included the National Council of Negro Women, the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Compton NAACP.

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 her 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 regarding Thomas' weight in ordering her into the car, Green added.

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

The Thomas incident was one of three violent altercations recently caught on tape involving Los Angeles Police Department officers that have rekindled the long-running debate about LAPD use of force and are shaping up to be a significant test for Chief Beck.

Connie Rice, longtime L.A. civil rights attorney and LAPD watchdog, said the key thing to watch now is how the department investigates the cases.

"For me it's never that the incidents happen, it's the response to the incident," Rice said. "It's endemic to policing that there are violent confrontations. For the LAPD, the old default was excessive use of force. The question is, how far are they are in their transformation away from excessive force being the norm? Do I see movement away from that? Yes, at the top they've definitively changed. Do we still have long way to go? Oh, yeah."

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

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

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-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

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