Two LAPD Officers Plead No Contest To Sexually Assaulting Women While On Duty, Receive 25- Year Prison Terms

Two Los Angeles police offi­cers plead­ed no con­test Monday to sex­u­al­ly assault­ing mul­ti­ple women, often prey­ing on vic­tims while one part­ner served as the look­out as the oth­er car­ried out an attack in their unmarked police car.

In a down­town L.A. court­room, Officers Luis Valenzuela and James C. Nichols entered their no-con­test pleas to two counts each of forcible rape and two counts each of forcible oral cop­u­la­tion. The offi­cers appeared in court in orange, jail-issued jump­suits and were shack­led at the waist.

This hurts,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said as he allud­ed to his own career in law enforce­ment and hand­ed each man a 25-year term in state prison. The judge also ordered the offi­cers to reg­is­ter as sex offend­ers.

If tried and con­vict­ed, the men had faced a max­i­mum penal­ty of life in prison.

The Los Angeles County dis­trict attor­ney’s office had filed more than a dozen felony counts against the men in 2016, alleg­ing they tar­get­ed four women from 2008 to 2011 by forc­ing them to have sex. Valenzuela was also accused of assault­ing one woman with a gun. Most of those charges were dis­missed as part of Monday’s plea deal.

The vic­tims were women ages 19 to 34 who were infor­mants for drug inves­ti­ga­tors or had been recent­ly arrest­ed on sus­pi­cion of drug-relat­ed crimes. Some of the women said they feared arrest if they did not obey Nichols’ and Valenzuela’s orders. The Times does not gen­er­al­ly iden­ti­fy vic­tims of sex­u­al vio­lence.

How dare they. They wore a badge to pro­tect peo­ple and instead they ter­ror­ized them,” Det. Carla Zuniga, one of the lead inves­ti­ga­tors in the case, said out­side the court­room. “They tar­nished the pub­lic trust. People trust the police. Every time some­thing like this hap­pens, we have to walk into the com­mu­ni­ty and say, ‘No, that’s not us.’ ”

Nichols, 46, and Valenzuela, 45, were put on unpaid leave from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2013 and had been relieved of duty. Monday’s plea deal clears the way for their for­mal ter­mi­na­tion. They have been jailed since ear­ly 2016, when LAPD detec­tives arrest­ed them on felony charges.

Stewart Powell, Nichols’ defense attor­ney, said his client was “look­ing for­ward to his day in court” but accept­ed the plea so the case could close.

It gives him a chance to get out and have a life after this case,” Powell said.

Valenzuela’s defense attor­ney, Bill Seki, said the plea deal allowed his client to one day reunite with his kids out­side prison. Valenzuela, he said, was “pret­ty somber” before enter­ing his plea.

As the cas­es go, these times are tough for police offi­cers,” Seki added.

The Times first report­ed on the mis­con­duct alle­ga­tions in 2013, when detec­tives sought a search war­rant to seize com­put­ers and phones, part of an exhaus­tive inves­ti­ga­tion that involved scour­ing the offi­cers’ work with drug infor­mants in the Hollywood area.

Prosecutors sought to iden­ti­fy every pos­si­ble woman who encoun­tered the two.

We do believe there may have been addi­tion­al vic­tims who chose not to coöper­ate with the inves­ti­ga­tion,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann Marie Wise.

The first woman to accuse Valenzuela and Nichols came for­ward three years ear­li­er. She said that the offi­cers picked her up in December 2008 for her work as an infor­mant, where she’d score drugs and in exchange receive $40.

While in the back seat of the offi­cers’ Volkswagen Jetta, she tes­ti­fied at a 2017 court hear­ing, Nichols exposed him­self and asked that she touch him. Then, he pushed her head into his lap, she said.

Another woman said that after she was arrest­ed in 2009 on sus­pi­cion of deal­ing hero­in, the offi­cers trans­port­ed her from Hollywood to the LAPD jail in Van Nuys. She tes­ti­fied that Nichols and Valenzuela took a detour and stopped in an alley.

Valenzuela informed her that there was a way she could stay out of jail, and he had sex with her in the back seat of the Jetta, she tes­ti­fied. Nichols wait­ed out­side the car.

I was in a dark alley­way with a guy with a gun,” she tes­ti­fied. “I did­n’t real­ly feel like I had a choice.”

She was sub­se­quent­ly released and did not have to post bail.

LAPD Sgt. Greg Bruce said at a 2016 court hear­ing that anoth­er woman had sex with the offi­cers sev­er­al times in a bid to “earn points” and have a drug case dropped.

He told her if she had sex with him, it would count towards her work­ing off her case,” Bruce said on the wit­ness stand.

The woman obeyed out of fear that she’d end up again behind bars.

What’s clear from all of the wit­ness­es that the court heard is that these offi­cers placed these women in a sit­u­a­tion where they were extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble,” said Wise, the pros­e­cu­tor. “They’re in a sit­u­a­tion where they don’t have a choice. They have the threat of either going back to jail or some­how being penal­ized by these offi­cers if they don’t com­ply.”

All four women who accused the men of forc­ing them to have sex filed civ­il law­suits, and so far the city has agreed to pay a total of more than $1.8 mil­lion in set­tle­ments to three of the women.

The fourth wom­an’s case is still pend­ing.

The direc­tors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union rep­re­sent­ing rank-and-file offi­cers, called both offi­cers’ actions “dis­gust­ing” and said there was “zero tol­er­ance” for offi­cers who use their posi­tion to take advan­tage of oth­ers.

We are sor­ry these women were let down and hope they are heal­ing as best they can,” the union lead­ers said in a state­ment.

Before the sen­tenc­ing, Monday, one of the vic­tims stood before the judge and spoke of her dif­fi­cult road to recov­ery. She said she was unable to trust oth­ers or feel safe.

Some of her worst pan­ic attacks, she said, had two trig­gers: the sight of a police car or a Volkswagen Jetta.