A 35-year-old black woman named Alesia Thomas uttered the words "I can't breathe" after getting kicked in the throat and groin in the back of a patrol car in 2012, according to a Los Angeles prosecutor.
Deputy District Attorney Shannon Presby is arguing the case against police officer Mary O’Callaghan who along with two other officers is charged with assault under the color of authority.
Thomas stopped breathing in the back of the patrol car that day, and was pronounced dead later a nearby hospital. According to NBC Los Angeles, a coroner could not determine a cause of death, but cocaine intoxication played a “major” role and her interaction with the officers “could not be excluded.”
In a video of the trial featured on a local L.A. news station, the prosecutor says, “The evidence will show Alesia Thomas was telling the truth when she told the defendant, Mary O’Callaghan, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
The incident with Thomas took place on July 22, 2012 at Thomas’s home in south Los Angeles after several LAPD officers, including O’Callaghan, who is white, showed up to investigate the mother for abandoning her children at a local police station.
O'Callaghan's lawyer has said that the officer was using her hands and feet to push Thomas into the patrol car, calling it a justified use of force.
"The defendant never stopped to listen, she kicked first and asked questions later," Presby said, according to al Jazeera.
The words ‘I can’t breathe’ became a rallying cry in the #BlackLivesMatter movement after a viral video captured 43-year-old black grandfather Eric Garner saying the words while NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo appeared to have Garner in a chokehold.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.