A pair of Los Angeles police officers are being investigated for allegedly forcing women to perform sex acts in exchange for leniency.
The Los Angeles Timesreports that Officers Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols are under investigation for allegedly targeting at least four women whom they had previously arrested or who were working as confidential informants.
According to a search warrant obtained by the Times, Valenzuela and Nichols threatened to jail women who balked at their predatory advances. The officers allegedly drove the women in unmarked cars, sometimes while handcuffed, to isolated areas where one of the men demanded sexual favors while the other stood guard.
Investigators have identified four women who have all made separate allegations of sexual misconduct against the officers.
The first woman alleges that the pair approached her in January 2010, a year after they first stopped her for a narcotics offense. Valenzuela allegedly threatened to take her to jail if she did not get into an unmarked Volkswagen Jetta. She complied, and he forced her to touch his exposed genitals.
A year later, another woman, who had been arrested and taken to the LAPD Hollywood station, told of two officers in a Jetta who stopped her as she was walking her dog. She recognized Valenzuela and Nichols because they had previously arrested her. She felt obligated to comply with the officers' demands, since she believed they were investigating a case. The woman alleges that Valenzuela "unzipped his pants and forced [her] head down toward his lap and physically held her head down" while forcing her to perform oral sex. She said she did not report the alleged assault immediately out of humiliation and fear for her safety.
In July 2012, a member of the Echo Park neighborhood watch informed police that a prostitute told him LAPD officers were preying on prostitutes, exchanging leniency for sexual favors. An internal affairs investigator, aware of the earlier allegations against Valenzuela and Nichols, "thought the circumstances and location were very similar."
The investigator then identified two other women who alleged that the pair indeed forced them to have sex with them in exchange for leniency. One of the women claimed she was handcuffed and taken to a secluded location where Nichols exposed himself and said, "You don't want to go to jail today, do you?" He then allegedly forced her to perform oral sex on him. She claims he committed the same crime against her six years earlier.
The other women that the investigator found claimed that she had been a confidential informant for Valenzuela and Nichols following an arrest and that Valenzuela told her she could avoid getting locked up if she had sex with him. She claims to have done so twice because she was afraid of going back to jail. Despite their promises, the woman ended up in jail in April 2011 and is still there.
Valenzuela is a 15-year LAPD veteran. Nichols has been on the force for 12 years. He has made headlines before, in the case of Deutsche Bank executive Brian C. Mulligan, who claims he was brutalized by LAPD officers, including Nichols, after he was stopped in May of last year.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters on Thursday that he was "saddened by the allegations."
"If they are true, it would be horrific," Beck said.
It also wouldn't be the first time LAPD officers committed sex crimes. Most recently, Officer Russell Mecano was found guilty of sexually assaulting and soliciting sex from women while on duty. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.