Two Los Angeles Police Department officers have been charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting four women while they were on duty. Prosecutors said all the women were arrested by the two officers for drug-related crimes. The case has been under investigation since 2013, with the officers on paid leave for at least part of that time.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that they believe James Nichols and Luis Valenzuela, both 44, began sexually assaulting women they’d arrested soon after they became partners in December 2008, working as undercover officers in narcotics enforcement. They are accusing of sexually assaulting the women at “various locations, including in their police vehicle,” the statement said. The victims are aged 19, 24, 25 and 34. The abuse is said to have continued until March 2011.
Both men are being charged with forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation under color of authority and oral copulation by force. Valenzuela is also charged with assault with a firearm, for allegedly pointing a gun at one woman.
These allegations didn’t just come to light recently. The LAPD was sued in federal court in 2014, with one of the victims, then 20, alleging that the two officers arrested her on a narcotics possession charge. At first they promised to help her with her case in exchange for her working as an informant, the lawsuit alleged, then began harassing and eventually sexually assaulting her. From the Los Angeles Times:
In March 2010, Valenzuela showed up at the woman’s apartment when he was off duty and, several months later, had sex with her in the back seat of an unmarked undercover car when he was working, according to the affidavit. Nichols, the woman told investigators, brought her to a hotel and, on a later encounter, had sex with her in her apartment.
The officers used similar threats on three other woman who also worked for them as informants or knew the officers from previous arrests, the affidavit showed. One of the alleged victims said the two officers pulled up alongside her in a Volkswagon Jetta as she was walking her dog in Hollywood. The officers, whom she recognized as the same cops who had arrested her previously, ordered her into the car, according to the affidavit.
The woman said she felt compelled to comply. Valenzuela, she said, got into the back seat with the woman and handed her dog to Nichols, who drove the car to a more secluded area. “Why don’t you cut out that tough girl crap,” the woman recounted Valenzuela saying as he forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to police records contained in the warrant.
When the first victim filed a complaint with the department in 2011, as Mother Jones reported, the woman said she was repeatedly brushed off. From the suit she filed against the LAPD:
[S]he was stonewalled and strung along for nearly three years by an LAPD Internal Affairs detective who mixed false promises that the officers would be brought to justice with a repeated command: Don’t talk to a lawyer.”
In July 2012, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Times, investigators heard reports from sex workers that two patrol officers were picking up them up then “letting them go in exchange for oral sex,” per the Times.
In November 2013, the Times reported that the LAPD was “seeking to fire” the two men through disciplinary hearings. It’s unclear whether the two officers were employed with the LAPD at the time they were charged. The woman who filed the lawsuit against the LAPD was paid a $575,000 settlement in 2014 by the city of Los Angeles
Nichols was also sued for excessive force by Universal Pictures chairman Brian Mulligan, who said he and another officer beat him outside a marijuana dispensary in 2012. A jury found both officers not guilty.
Prosecutors said they would ask that bail be set at $3.83 million for Nichols and $3.76 million for Valenzuela. Both face up to life in prison if convicted.
The Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. Photo via AP Images