LOS ANGELES (AP) — At least five police officers are under investigation after a woman died during a violent arrest in which an officer kicked her genitals, police officials said.
"I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously," Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us."
Alesia Thomas, 35, died July 22.
The confrontation with officers occurred after she abandoned her 3-year-old and 12-year-old children at a police station around 2 a.m. and they wandered inside, drawing the attention of an officer, police said.
"The officer said, 'Hey, what are you kids doing here?' They said, 'Well our mom doesn't want us anymore. She dropped us off at the police station,'" Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman, told KTTV. Smith said the children told the officers they hadn't eaten for a couple of days.
Police Cmdr. Bob Green told the Times that the woman was giving up the children because she was a drug addict who could not care for them.
Beck wants to investigate whether she was intoxicated at the time of the altercation, or if her death may have been caused by a medical condition.
Police tracked down the South Los Angeles resident and were trying to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment, police said. The incident was caught on a patrol car camera.
A Police Department press release at the time said Thomas "put up a violent struggle" and that "she began actively resisting arrest, attempting to pull away from the officers."
One officer knocked her to the ground by sweeping her legs out from beneath her and two other officers then handcuffed Thomas behind her back and attempted to lead her to a patrol car, according to the department's official report. Two other officers also arrived at the scene.
Green said Thomas was a large woman and officers used a "hobble restraint device" — a strap that was wrapped around her ankles.
Green confirmed to the Times that during the struggle to get Thomas into the back of the patrol car, a female officer threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals and then did so.
Once Thomas was in the car, the video showed her breathing shallowly until she drew her last breath.
A neighbor awakened by the noise described Thomas as the aggressor and said he did not see officers do anything wrong, the Times said.
Gerald McCrary Sr., 55, said he saw Thomas break free from plastic handcuffs and officers then put her in metal handcuffs and tried to calm her down as she sat against a wall.
"They were talking to her, asking her to calm down, that everything will be all right," McCrary said.
He said officers brought Thomas water to drink and she told them, "My heart hurts. I can't walk anymore."
Thomas was taken downstairs from the apartment complex with one officer on each arm, according to McCrary, who later followed and saw Thomas in a police car "shaking her head against the back seat." At a later point he saw her lying on a sidewalk as paramedics arrived.
McCrary's live-in caregiver, Charmaine Hood, told the Times that the 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."
In a separate incident that was also videotaped, two officers were shown slamming a handcuffed woman to the ground. Beck announced Wednesday that he was transferring a captain from his command in response to that incident.