Jurors on Friday convicted a Los Angeles police officer of felony assault for repeatedly kicking a handcuffed woman who died shortly afterward.
The jury reached its verdict after two days of deliberations in the trial of Officer Mary O'Callaghan, 50. She pleaded not guilty to assault under color of authority in the 2012 arrest of Alesia Thomas, 35.
“I am pleased that the jury agreed with our assessment of the evidence in this case,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “The verdict proves the criminal justice system works.”
O'Callaghan was not charged in Thomas' death. She has been relieved of duty without pay pending an administrative hearing.
Thomas' family praised the verdict.
“Our family is pleased that the officer was convicted on the charge that was brought by the Los Angeles District Attorney. This is another step in the continued struggle to obtain full justice for her children," the family said in a statement.
In the incident that led to the trial, officers went to arrest Thomas at her home after she left her two children outside a police station.
A dashboard camera in a police cruiser captured O'Callaghan kicking the handcuffed Thomas, who was in the back seat, seven times in the groin, abdomen and upper thigh, prosecutors said. Thomas lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a hospital. In addition to the handcuffs, Thomas was also wearing leg restraints.
Thomas had resisted arrest, according to a report by the Police Commission. An autopsy found Thomas had cocaine in her system, but the cause of death was listed as undetermined because the struggle couldn't be excluded as a contributing factor. There were no internal injuries or bruising.
O'Callaghan's attorney said the officer had never had a complaint against her upheld during her 19 years on the force, and had an exemplary record.
The Los Angeles Times reported that O’Callaghan’s attorney presented evidence showing his client did not intend to kill Thomas, who asked for an ambulance half an hour before officers called one to aid her. The audio recording of the encounter caught Thomas muttering amid heavily breathing, repeating "I can't," the Times reported.
"If you want to kill me, just kill me," the restrained Thomas said in the recording, according to the paper.
"I don't want to kill you," O'Callaghan replied. "I just want to transport you."
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press