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Videotaped LAPD altercations prompt calls for investigations

August 31, 2012 |  2:36 pm

A Los Angeles police commissioner said he wants to examine recent videotaped altercations involving LAPD officers, including one in which a woman died.

Police Commission member Richard E. Drooyan said “each incident is disturbing and of concern to the  command staff as well as the police commission. What is important to emphasize is the command staff take these matters very seriously and these incidents are going to be thoroughly investigated.”

Several weeks ago, a cellphone video showed four police officers tackling and hitting a a 20-year-old Venice skateboarder they said was resisting arrest.

Then this week, videotape emerged in which two LAPD officers were shown slamming a handcuffed woman to the ground in the San Fernando Valley before appearing to give themselves high-fives. The woman, a nurse who was pulled over for holding a cellphone while driving, suffered large bruises to her face and body.

But the most serious incident came to light late Thursday, when LAPD officials revealed that a woman had died during a violent confrontation in July outside her home. Police said the woman had come to a police station to drop off her children and that police returned to her South L.A. home to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment.

“Each incident is disturbing,” Drooyan said Friday. “In each of these cases, we are talking about different places in the department with different races and genders involved.”

“We will evaluate whether there is a pattern here but we haven’t had any of these kinds of incidents for a while,” he added. “We’ve had a relatively calm period since I came on the commission two and a half years ago and I have seen nothing to suggest a cultural issue.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck promised a full investigation of the South L.A. incident.

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

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 Cmdr. Bob Green confirmed that one officer, while trying to get Alesia Thomas into the back of a patrol car, threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals if she did not comply, and then followed through on her threat.

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

In his statement, Beck said that before passing judgment on the officers, 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.

Thomas' grandmother said she has not been able to sleep since Thomas' death and wants to know exactly what happened.

"I just want them to tell the truth about what happened to my granddaughter," said Ada Moses in an interview with KNBC Channel 4.

The Thomas case occurred in the early-morning hours of July 22 after she left her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at the LAPD's Southeast station, according to a department account released the following day. Green, who oversees the Southeast station, confirmed that Thomas tried to surrender custody of the children to police because she said 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 her on suspicion of child endangerment, the department's account said.

Thomas "began actively resisting arrest" and one of the officers took her to the ground by sweeping her legs from beneath her, the LAPD's official account said. 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.

Two more officers were summoned as Thomas continued to struggle. Green confirmed that Thomas was a large woman. 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 official account, however, made no mention of what Green confirmed was a female officer's questionable treatment of Thomas.

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

A neighbor who witnessed part of the incident told The Times he did not see officers do anything wrong and described Thomas as the aggressor.

Gerald McCrary Sr., 55, said he was awakened by the commotion and saw police wrestling with Thomas, who managed to break free from plastic handcuffs. The officers secured her with metal handcuffs and tried to calm her as she sat against a wall, McCrary said.

"They were talking to her, asking her to calm down, that everything will be all right," he recalled. They brought Thomas some water to drink.

"My heart hurts. I can't walk anymore," he recalled Thomas telling police.

Two officers escorted her down the stairs in her apartment complex, one on each arm. McCrary eventually followed and said he saw Thomas in a patrol car "shaking her head against the back seat." Sometime later, he saw her sprawled out on the sidewalk without a blouse. Paramedics had just arrived.

McCrary said police interviewed him on two separate occasions about the incident but never mentioned that Thomas was dead.

Charmaine Hood, McCrary's live-in caregiver, also witnessed Thomas' encounter with police. She said officers were trying to help Thomas.

"I didn't see them try to harm her in any shape or fashion," Hood said. "I seen them protect her from hurting herself."


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--Joel Rubin, Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles and Angel Jennings and Sam Allen in South Los Angeles