Veterans of the force allegedly targeted victims who were most unlikely to report or be believed.
By Kali Holloway / AlterNet
According to a statement released yesterday by Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, some of the assaults took place in the officers’ patrol car, and nearly all of the alleged assaults were carried out while the cops were on duty.
James Nichols, a 15-year veteran of the force, and Luis Valenzuela, on the force for 18 years, face multiple charges, including “forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation under color of authority and oral copulation by force.” Valenzuela is also being charged with assault with a firearm for pointing a gun at one of the women.
The four alleged victims, who range in age from 19 to 34, all told investigators similar stories of sexual assault by the officers. Citing information contained in the arrest warrant, the Los Angeles Times reports the women, often after being threatened with jail, were taken by car to desolate areas where they were forced to perform sex acts on one officer while the other “kept watch.”
All four women had reportedly been arrested in the past by Valenzuela and Nichols on drug-related charges, and two were working with the officers as informants. Though the first report was made in 2010, the alleged assault took place a year prior. The women say they were afraid to come forward for numerous reasons. Dennis Chang, a lawyer representing two of the women, suggests the police targeted their victims knowing they were unlikely to report due to prior arrest records, along with fears about having their status as informants revealed.
“These women were drug users, they’re primarily arrested and in custody, in an extremely vulnerable state,” Chang said. “They were afraid.”
Last year, the Los Angeles City Council paid $575,000 to one of the victims in an out-of-court settlement. If convicted, the two officers face life in prison.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck addressed reporters on Wednesday during a press conference.
“These two officers have disgraced themselves, they’ve disgraced this badge, they’ve disgraced their oath of office,” Beck said. “I am extremely troubled by what they’ve done.”
Beck says the department is currently trying to determine if there were any other victims. The Washington Post notes that before any charges were filed, the investigation dragged on for years with little progress:
“According to the complaint, the offenses…were reported by multiple women but the rapes allegedly continued unchecked as an internal investigation floundered for years. It wasn’t until one of the women filed a lawsuit against the cops in 2013 that their fellow LAPD officers moved in, seizing phones and computers belonging to Valenzuela and Nichols. The accused cops have spent the past two years on unpaid leave.”
The case comes not long after the conviction of former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was sentenced to 263 years for the sexual assault of 13 women. All the victims in that case were African American, and mostly poor with prior drug charges on their record. Though the race of the victims in the case against Valenzuela and Nichols is not publicly known, the details in court documents seem to indicate the two officers preyed on women who were unlikely to report the assaults or be believed if they did file a report. Like Holtzclaw, they are accused of assaulting some of their victims multiple times.
Last year, an investigation by the Associated Press found that “1,000 officers…lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included possession of child pornography; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse.”
In the meantime, attorney Chang expressed hope that the officers would face consequences for their actions.
“It is a wonderful development, although it is years overdue,” Chang told the Times. “It’s a ray of light that these women will finally see some justice.”