By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles police are probing the actions of five officers involved in the rough arrest of a woman who died shortly after being taken into custody, in the latest of a string of high-profile incidents that have raised questions about appropriate use of force.
The case under investigation involves the death of 35-year-old Alesia Thomas, a mother of two, who resisted arrest on suspicion of child endangerment and died after being put in the back of a squad car, police said on Friday.
"I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously and directed that the officers involved be removed from field duties until further details are known, including what part intoxicants and physical conditions contributed," Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement.
Since the 1991 beating of Rodney King and the riots that followed, the Los Angeles Police Department, has worked hard to improve its relations with city residents, especially minorities. Observers say the LAPD has made great strides since the King beating.
Even so, the use of force by police still generates heated passions in southern California. The city of Anaheim in Orange County last month erupted in violent protests over fatal police shootings of suspects, including a man who was unarmed.
In the latest case in Los Angeles, officers went to a home in an impoverished neighborhood on July 22 to speak to Thomas about the treatment of her children, police said.
After interviewing her, the officers tried to take Thomas into custody but she resisted arrest. One officer swept Thomas' legs from under her and two other officers handcuffed her, police said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that LAPD deputy chief Bob Green told the newspaper a female officer had threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals if she did not get into a police car and did end up kicking the woman. Green could not be reached for comment.
Within minutes of getting Thomas into the back of the squad car, officers noticed she did not appear to be breathing, police said. Paramedics were called to take her to a hospital where she died a short time later.
Five officers at the scene of Thomas' arrest were put on administrative duty, said LAPD spokeswoman Officer Sara Faden. The department's force investigation division is handling the case.
An in-car video showed "questionable tactics and improper comments" during Thomas' arrest, police said. The local District's Attorney's Office is also probing the death.
A spokesman for the union representing Los Angeles police officers declined to comment on the death, which follows a pair of other videotaped arrests that have generated public criticism.
Earlier this week, local station NBC4 reported on an arrest in which a surveillance camera showed a police officer slamming a handcuffed woman to the ground.
In another arrest caught on video, a black college student last week accused Los Angeles police of severely beating him for skateboarding in traffic.
(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)