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Cocaine called 'major factor' in death of woman arrested by LAPD

January 14, 2013 |  5:34 pm

Cocaine intoxication was a “major factor” in the death of Alesia Thomas, a woman who died shortly after she was forcibly taken into custody by several LAPD officers, according to the findings of an autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner.

The coroner concluded it was not possible to determine what role, if any, the officers' actions played in Thomas' death. Because of that uncertainty, the official cause of the 35-year-old woman's death was listed as undetermined in the autopsy report released Monday afternoon.

At the request of LAPD officials, the coroner had kept the autopsy results secret for months after the July 22 incident. Police officials have said the secrecy was needed while internal investigators conducted their probe into the death.  

The case has drawn widespread scrutiny since The Times reported that a female officer stomped intentionally on Thomas’ genitals during the struggle to arrest her.

Police have so far refused to release a video of the encounter captured by a police camera.

Hours before she died, Thomas, who suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and drug addiction, according to the autopsy report, had left her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at the LAPD's Southeast Area station, according to a department account of the incident. Concerned that she was unable to care for them properly, she attempted to surrender the children to police custody, police officials and an attorney representing Thomas' family have said. 

Officers went in search of Thomas and found her at 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 her 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. She was over 6 feet tall and weighed 228 pounds, according to the autopsy report. 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 video camera, which was mounted inside of the patrol car, shows Thomas struggling to breathe and eventually falling unconscious, according to a police official who has seen the footage and requested anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Four police officers and the supervising sergeant were removed from field duties immediately after the incident, and the department is conducting criminal and administrative investigations into the officers' conduct, police said.


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-- Joel Rubin