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Custody death spurs officials to emphasize DCFS support for parents in crisis

September 7, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police and local officials are worried about a community backlash following a controversial death case. They say they need a close relationship with the community, and this case doesn't help.

Thirty-five-year-old Alesia Thomas, from South Los Angeles, died while in police custody on July 22. But before her run-in with police she had allegedly abandoned her children at a police station, saying she could not longer care for them.

Now some local officials are worried that parents will refuse to seek help in light of Thomas's death.

"Our objective here today is to make sure that no one who needs the services that they are entitled to are fearful of taking advantage of them," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

At a news conference in South L.A. Friday, county officials emphasized that help is available by way of the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

"The child experts and social workers who are here are caring professionals who will respond to the situation and have an obligation to do so," said Ridley-Thomas.

Five LAPD officers are under investigation in connection to Alesia Thomas's death. She died after allegedly fighting with officers who had gone to her home to arrest her on suspicion of child endangerment.

On July 22, LAPD officers went to Thomas' apartment building on the 9000 block of Broadway after her two children, ages 3 and 12, were found at a police station. Moses says her granddaughter left a note with her children at the police station, saying she could no longer take care of them. Family members say she has struggled with drug addiction.

When officers went after the woman to take her into custody for suspicion of child endangerment, police say she resisted arrest, causing a violent incident. According to the Los Angeles Times, police officials say an officer kicked Thomas in the groin. When officers managed to put the woman in a patrol car, she stopped breathing and died.

"This is an ongoing investigation that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on. The facts are being investigated and at the time that that investigation is concluded we will release every piece of information that we have to and need to," said LAPD Commander Bill Scott.

And while officials could not comment on the status of the investigation into the death of Alesia Thomas, they did want to reinforce that programs are available to parents when they are in trouble.

"We have 30 offices throughout the county where someone can stop in, just like this one here, and talk to an actual social worker if they need to," said Phillip Browning, DCFS.

Celanese Thornton says she utilized programs offered by the county.

"They helped me to relocate with the kids and parenting classes and stuff like that," said Thornton.

Parents who need help can call the county's DCFS Child Protection Hotline at (800) 540-4000.


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