December 3, 2021

2 Los Angeles police officers charged with raping women face life in prison

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GettyImages-501589180BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS From Mashable

LOS ANGELES — While one Los Angeles police officer acted as a lookout in the front seat of a departmental car, a 19-year-old woman working as a drug informant was forced to perform oral sex on his partner in the back seat after being told, “‘You have to do what the police tell you to do,” the woman says in a federal court filing.

Another woman, also working as a drug informant, said the same two officers forced her to have sex with them under threat of jail time.

Two other women told eerily similar stories.

On Wednesday [Feb17], prosecutors announced that veteran Officers James Nichols and Luis Valenzuela had been arrested and charged with repeatedly raping the four women over a three-year period.

The charges against Nichols, 44, and Valenzuela, 43, include rape under color of authority and oral copulation by force. Valenzuela also is charged with pointing a gun at one of the women. Nichols was a 15-year LAPD veteran and Valenzuela was an 18-year veteran.

Prosecutors say all four women assaulted—ages 19, 24, 25 and 35— had been arrested on drug-related charges
Prosecutors say all four women assaulted—ages 19, 24, 25 and 35— had been arrested on drug-related charges at various times by the officers, and court records show at least two had been recruited by the officers to work as drug informants. The assaults took place between 2008 and 2011, according to the felony complaint.

The officers could face life in prison if convicted.

Attorneys representing the officers in civil litigation filed by the women did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday. The officers, who have denied all the claims in court records, were set to be arraigned on Thursday.

Prosecutors are asking that they each be held on bail of more than $3.5 million.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement that the department is cooperating with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and will “continue vigorously investigating officers accused of alleged crimes.”

“I will say again, any officer that abuses the public’s trust is not welcome in the LAPD,” Beck said.

Prosecutors said the rapes began in December 2008 after Nichols and Valenzuela became partners in the department’s Hollywood Division. They were working as narcotics investigators.

The women have filed civil rights lawsuits against the officers. The Los Angeles City Council settled one case last year after agreeing to pay one woman $575,000, while the other case is still being litigated.

A third lawsuit is expected to be filed.

Dennis Chang, an attorney who represents two of the women, said the officers took advantage of the women’s positions and threatened them with jail time or outing them as informants.

“These women were drug users, they’re primarily arrested and in custody, in an extremely vulnerable state,” Chang said. “These women were drug users, they’re primarily arrested and in custody, in an extremely vulnerable state,” Chang said. “They were afraid.”

Beck told reporters that the officers still have to go through formal administrative hearings before they can be fired. They have been off duty without pay since 2013. The charges stemmed from an earlier LAPD investigation following accusations of sexual assault.

The charges come just a few weeks after former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison for a string of rapes and sexual assaults.

During a yearlong investigation of police departments nationwide published in November 2015, the Associated Press found 1,000 U.S. law enforcement officers had lost their badges due to sexual misconduct—including rape, possession of child pornography, propositioning citizens and having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse— between 2009 and 2014. Not all states revoke licenses and not all states track the punishment; the AP admits its analysis of 41 states could be an undercount.

“It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country,” Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida, who helped study the problem for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “It’s so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.”

Additional reporting by Mashable.
IMAGE: Gettyimages-501589180
A police vehicle in Los Angeles on December 16, 2015. IMAGE: RINGO CHIU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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