An LAPD officer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a single felony charge she assaulted a handcuffed prisoner just before the prisoner died.

Officer Mary O’Callaghan was released on her own recognizance and ordered to appear at another hearing in December.

Her defense attorney, Robert Rico, told reporters outside court he was still shocked prosecutors had decided to file a criminal case – for what he says was a reasonable use of force against Alecia Thomas in July, 2012.

“My client absolutely will not take any [plea] offers,” Rico said. “My client is confident in her actions, she’s been an officer for 19 years, and her actions were minimal in light of the actions of the arrestee.”

Rico said Thomas had been combative and had slipped out of leg restraints when O’Callaghan kicked her in the stomach and groin and grabbed Thomas around the neck. 

He said several police car video and audio recordings documented the incident, but said he agreed with a prosecution request to prevent the public from seeing them.

“You had a very violent, uncooperative, and large arrestee,” Rico said the recordings show, but said he feared the images would be presented by the media without the proper context and could therefore compromise the opinions of potential jurors.

O’Callaghan has been suspended without pay from the LAPD. She faces a Board of Rights, or internal administrative trial board, in March, and could be fired.

Police said officers had gone to Thomas’ apartment to find out why Thomas had left her 3 and 12 year-old children in the lobby of an LAPD station.

Thomas was immediately combative, they said, and after the O’Callaghan kicking incident, was left in the backseat of a patrol car handcuffed and with leg restraints.

Officers noticed some minutes later that Thomas had stopped breathing. She died at a hospital.

The L.A. County Coroner’s Office said it could not determine Thomas’ cause of death, but said she was under the influence of cocaine at the time she died.

-- Eric Leonard at Criminal Courts in Downtown L.A. (@leonardfiles)