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5 LAPD Officers Investigated After Mom, 35, Dies In Custody

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — At least five LAPD officers were under investigation Friday after a 35-year-old woman died in custody.

KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero reports the probe comes on the heels of a videotaped arrest last week that left another woman badly bruised.

Police Chief Charlie Beck reassigned the officers Thursday after detectives with the department’s Force Investigation Division found problems with some tactics used during last month’s arrest of Alesia Thomas in South Los Angeles.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said anytime someone dies in custody, the department immediately dispatches a full team of investigators.

“These are very big deals for us,” Smith said. “They isolate all the officers, they make sure they’re all separated, they make sure they’re all interviewed separately, they conduct the most thorough use-of-force investigation in the country.”

Police attempted to arrest Thomas following a child endangerment investigation after her two children, ages 3 and 12, were abandoned at the LAPD’s Southeast Station on July 22, police said.

“We interviewed the kids; the kids said they hadn’t eaten anything in a couple of days, so we of course got food for them,” said Smith.

Thomas began resisting arrest and attempting to pull away, according to the department, which said one officer performed a leg sweep and took her to the ground while two others handcuffed her behind her back.

Thomas resisted entering the police car, so officers placed a hobble restraint on her ankles and put her in the back seat in a seated position, police said.

Within minutes, they noticed Thomas did not appear to be breathing and immediately called for Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics, according to police. She was taken to a hospital and died a short time later.

A barber who witnessed the entire incident told CBS2’s Art Barron that Thomas was shouting and fighting as police dragged her into the patrol car.

“Next thing you know, the neighbors and everybody was hearing screaming and yelling ’bout, ‘They killin’ her, they killin’ her’,” an eyewitness who only described himself as “Tony” said. “They carried her out the building hog-tied and we ain’t seen the lady since.”

Beck’s decision to reassign the officers in the Thomas case comes one day after he removed Capt. Joseph Hiltner as commanding officer of the Foothill Division for being “severely deficient in his response” to a videotaped arrest last week that left a woman badly bruised.

“I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously and directed the officers involved be removed from field duties until further details are known, including what part intoxicants and physical conditions contributed,” Beck said in a statement. “I’m confident we will get to the truth, no matter where that leads us.”

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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