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Five LAPD officers under investigation in death of woman

At least five Los Angeles police officers are under investigation in

the death of a woman who stopped breathing during a struggle that

included an officer stomping on her genital area and the use of

additional force by others to take her into custody, police officials

confirmed Thursday.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."I take all in-custody death investigations

very seriously," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement late Thursday.

"I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us."The

incident came to light a day after Beck announced he was transferring a

captain from his command after a separate videotaped incident in which

officers were shown slamming a handcuffed woman to the ground. Beck said

that video raised concerns and that the department was investigating

the officers.


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 Area station, according to a department account

released the following day. Green, who oversees the Southeast Area

station, confirmed that Thomas tried to surrender custody of the

children to police because 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 down 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." Some time 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."


Beck's statement said 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 before he passed judgment on the

officers.Four police officers and the sergeant were removed from

field duties immediately after the incident and the department is

conducting criminal and administrative investigations into the officers'

conduct.News of the investigation comes after Beck transferred

Capt. Joseph Hiltner from the department's Foothill Division following

another videotaped police confrontation.The Aug. 21 incident began when

the officers pulled over Michelle Jordan at a Del Taco restaurant in Tujunga because

she was holding a cellphone while driving.


As the 5-foot 4-inch Jordan left her vehicle, she allegedly failed to comply

with officers' commands to get back into the car and was slammed to the

ground by the male officers and placed in handcuffs, according to police

officials.While cuffed, she was led to the officers' patrol car. Moments later, she

was slammed again to the pavement, apparently with more force, by one of the officers, who

was much larger than Jordan, the officials said. The video footage

appears to show the two officers exchanging high fives after Jordan was

taken down.Beck said he believed the captain "was severely

deficient in his response" for failing to notify superiors and remove

the two involved officers from the field. The chief said he ordered the

footage shown at roll calls when officers begin their shifts.Hiltner, a 34-year

LAPD veteran, could not be reached for comment.

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