A jury found a white Los Angeles police officer guilty on Friday of assault for kicking and shoving a handcuffed black woman who was in the back of a patrol car and later died after complaining that she could not breathe.
Officer Mary O’Callaghan had been charged with assault under color of authority but not with the subsequent death of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas, who was being arrested for child abandonment when she lost consciousness in the vehicle in July 2012.
O’Callaghan, 50, was taken into custody and faces up to three years in prison when she is sentenced on July 23.
The coroner’s office determined acute cocaine intoxication played a major role in Thomas’ death.
The trial follows a series of fatal police confrontations across the United States that have sparked demonstrations and put law enforcement agencies under scrutiny over the use of force, particularly against minorities and the mentality ill.
“The verdict proves the criminal justice system works,” Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who is black, said in a statement.
During the trial, a prosecutor showed jurors video from the patrol car and said it proved O’Callaghan used excessive force when she shoved Thomas in the throat and kicked her in the groin and stomach during the arrest.
In the video, O’Callaghan used a crude expression to threaten to kick Thomas, who was turned with her feet toward O’Callaghan at the door of the car and could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” before losing consciousness minutes later.
Thomas’ family welcomed the verdict. “This is another step in the continued struggle to obtain full justice for her children,” they said in a statement.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement he appreciated his partnership with prosecutors “to ensure that officers who operate outside of the law and tarnish our badge are held accountable.”
O’Callaghan’s attorney, Robert Rico, told reporters he planned to appeal and seek a sentence of probation. He added his client was remorseful, but not for using force which she thought was justified.
“What she is remorseful about was the last words Ms. Thomas heard were her (O’Callaghan’s) own words and as a mother that’s been weighing on her heavily,” Rico said.
(Reporting by Phoenix Tso; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)