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Police Officer Used Unreasonable Force In Arrest Of Mom, 35, Who Died In Custody

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A police officer used unreasonable force when she allegedly kicked a woman in the groin area while the woman was restrained and partially inside the backseat of a cruiser, the Los Angeles Police Commission said in a report released Thursday.

Alesia Thomas, 35, was transported to hospital and pronounced dead on July 22 - hours after officers tracked her to her South Los Angeles home to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment.

Thomas had abandoned her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at a police station at about 2 a.m. Police said she dropped off the children because she was a drug addict who could not care for them. Officers at the station learned the children expected their grandmother to pick them up.

An autopsy released in January found that Thomas had cocaine in her system when she went into cardiac arrest, but it also said it was unclear why Thomas died, because it was difficult to know how the struggle may have contributed. Thomas also had a history of bipolar disorder, it said.

According to the report, an officer knocked the 228-pound Thomas to the ground by sweeping her legs out from under her. Two other officers handcuffed her as they said she was resisting arrest, and at multiple points Thomas was carried by officers as they tried to lead her to a patrol car.

Thomas is described as initially "fidgety, wide eyed, sweating" according to an officer and later "incoherent and kept asking the officers to let her go and told them on several occasions to kill her," the report states.

At one point Thomas requested an ambulance, but when questioned by an officer as to why, asked for a glass of water. No ambulance was called, the report states.

Officers trying to devise a way to get her into the patrol car used a restraint device around her ankles. At one point audio captured her saying "I can't breathe" but officers said they did not hear her, according to the report.

Thomas, who was sprawled across the cruiser's back seat with her legs restrained, was kicking the window. An officer used profanity toward Thomas including threatening to kick her if she didn't "knock it off," the report states. In all, the officer used her feet "seven times on three separate occasions to push or kick (Thomas) in the upper thigh, groin and abdomen area," the report states.

The officer states she did this to move Thomas into the patrol car.

Once Thomas was in the car, video from the cruiser shows her "eyes roll back" and her body roll toward the driver's seat before officers reported that she appeared unconscious. Thomas did not appear to be breathing when she was removed from the back seat. She arrived at the hospital in full cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead by a doctor there, the report states.

The commission noted the "apparent indifference" and comments made by the officer who allegedly kicked Thomas in the groin area. The commission was unable to determine whether the officer actually kicked Thomas or was just trying to use her foot to push Thomas into the car. But they determined that the decision to use her foot or leg to move Thomas into the cruiser was "ineffective and inappropriate."

The commission also found that three other officers used appropriate force but that their actions may be deemed misconduct when two officers did not request an ambulance when asked and another officer possibly made false statements to investigators. A supervisor may not have exercised proper control over the situation, according to the report.

The potential misconduct will be investigated by the department. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is also investigating the incident.

Meanwhile four of the officers are working administrative assignments at other stations and one was allowed to return to the field after her role was deemed minor, said Cmdr. Andrew Smith. The officers are not identified in the report.

The department has not released the videotape of the incident and denied a request for a copy from The Associated Press, citing the ongoing investigation.

Attorney Steven Effres, who represents Thomas' daughter, said he is still trying to obtain the video and other necessary materials to "find out the truth and details about what happened that evening."

The victim's grandmother, who lives in South L.A., spoke to KCAL9's Suraya Fadel about the case and the loss of her granddaughter.

"I look at her picture and I just start crying sometimes," Ada Moses said.

"I am happy they found the truth out. So that's all I'm happy out. The truth will set you free."

She questioned the actions of officers but said she is not harboring resentment toward those involved.

"Yes, I forgive them," she said.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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