2 LA officers charged with raping women on duty
Authorities said all four women assaulted had been arrested on drug-related charges at various times
By Amanda Lee Myers
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, 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.
They 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.
Prosecutors say all four women assaulted 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.
Those 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. "They were afraid."
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