The chief of the Los Angeles Police Department has called narcotics officers Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols a disgrace to the badge. Their union president says their crimes and arrest Wednesday are “deeply disturbing.” The lawyer representing one of the men’s victims calls them “scary, freaky guys.”
The men stand accused of violating the public trust by repeatedly raping vulnerable women whom they’d arrested, turned into confidential informants, and then threatened with jail if they didn’t comply with their sexual demands, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“On one occasion, Valenzuela was getting a b—job in the backseat of a department-issued Volkswagen Jetta with Nichols acting as the lookout,” two victims’ lawyer, Dennis W. Chang told the New York Daily News. “This is just weird stuff. The victims that they chose were just extremely vulnerable.”
Chang described the women Luis Valenzuela, 43, and James Nichols, 44, allegedly raped as “desperate” and “exposed,” who’d been repeatedly arrested, were drug addicts, and feared for their personal safety.
Both cops are still with the LAPD, but have been on unpaid leave since 2013. They were arrested by detectives from their own department Wednesday. Their crimes date from late 2008 — when they became partners — to 2011, and their alleged victims were 19, 24, 25, and 34 years of age when assaulted, NBC Los Angeles reported. Most of the sexual assaults occurred while Luis and James were on duty.
They now face a dozen felony charges that could send both to prison for life: multiple counts each of sexual assaults, including forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation under color of authority, and oral copulation by force. Luis also faces a charge of assault with a firearm.
At a press conference announcing the arrests Wednesday, Chief Charlie Beck was reportedly quite somber as he spoke about the crimes.
“These two officers have disgraced themselves, they’ve disgraced this badge, they’ve disgraced their oath of office. “I am extremely troubled by what they’ve done.”
As they stalked the streets of LA, Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols established a routine. Narcotics officers in the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, the partners allegedly targeted women they’d arrested for drug possession; sometimes, they used them as confidential informants in their ongoing cases. Under threat of jail, they forced them into their unmarked car, which they drove on duty, took them to an isolated spot, and then demanded sex while the other kept a lookout.
These disturbing crimes were brought to light starting in early 2010, when the first accuser came forward. She was an informant, threatened by the cops with jail time if she didn’t comply with their sexual demands. Her case went nowhere, and the woman vanished. A similar account surfaced a year later.
An internal investigation into the matter stalled for a year and a half, until in 2012, when a man called police to report a conversation with a prostitute. She said officers had been picking up her colleagues but agreeing to let them go without charges in exchange for oral sex. From this lead, two more victims were identified. By 2013, Luis and James were suspended without pay.
The case was revamped in 2014, and detectives conducted extensive interviews, surveillance, executed search warrants, and conducted forensic analysis. They retraced their movements, searched for more victims, and probed their contacts. The result of all this dogged police work is the arrest of these two men Wednesday.
They’re scheduled to appear in court Thursday. Prosecutors will ask that Nichols be sent to jail in lieu of $3.83 million and Valenzuela for $3.76 million. For Chang, the arrest of Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols couldn’t have come soon enough.
“It is a wonderful development, although it is years overdue. It’s a ray of light that these women will finally see some justice.”
[Image via Stephen Moehle/Shutterstock]