LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jurors on Friday convicted a female Los Angeles police officer of felony assault for repeatedly kicking a handcuffed woman who later died.
The jury of 11 women and one man reached its verdict after about two days of deliberations in the trial of Officer Mary O'Callaghan, 50. She pleaded not guilty to assaulting a civilian in the 2012 arrest of Alesia Thomas, 35.
Dressed in a black pantsuit, O'Callaghan wiped her face, appearing to cry after the verdict was read.
Robert Rico, O'Callaghan's attorney, said he plans to appeal and ask for a new trial.
"I firmly believe the evidence presented by the prosecution did not show her force was unreasonable or unnecessary," he said, adding that he felt the jury's verdict was "based on emotion" rather than the necessary legal standard for conviction.
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 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.
A report by the Police Commission said the 228-pound Thomas resisted arrest.
O'Callaghan's attorney noted his client has an exemplary record, and no complaints against her have been upheld in her 19 years on the force.
O'Callaghan was charged with assault under color of authority, but she was not charged in Thomas' death. She had been relieved of duty without pay pending an administrative hearing.
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 faces a maximum of three years in county jail when she is sentenced July 23.
Rico said O'Callaghan was remanded to custody at her own request while she awaits sentencing to avoid causing the family any more grief. He added that he will ask for probation as a minimum based on her military service and career before the charges.
Rico gave her a hug before she was handcuffed in her seat and remanded to the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department without bail.
Najee Ali, a community activist who said he spoke with the Thomas family, said they were grateful for the verdict but that "no one is celebrating" because Thomas is gone. He noted, however, that "it's very rare to have a police officer prosecuted, let alone convicted."
Ali said the family is asking that O'Callaghan receive the maximum sentence to send a message that police brutality will not be tolerated.
"It is always disappointing when an officer fails to uphold the high standards and professionalism shown by the thousands of LAPD officers" daily, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said.
He said he appreciated the partnership with the district attorney's office "to ensure that officers who operate outside of the law, and tarnish our badge, are held accountable."
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement she was "pleased that the jury agreed with our assessment of the evidence."
"The verdict proves the criminal justice system works," Lacey said.
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