City will spend $450,000 to set­tle an LAPD sex as­sault case

Pay­out will end suit filed by 1 of 4 women ac­cus­ing 2 of­fi­cers of at­tacks from ’08 to ’11.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Kate Mather and Emily Alpert Reyes kate.mather@la­times.com

The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil agreed Wed­nes­day to spend $450,000 to set­tle a law­suit filed by one of four women who ac­cused two po­lice of­fi­cers of sex­ual as­sault — a scan­dal that ul­ti­mately led to crim­i­nal charges for the of­fi­cers and a mount­ing fi­nan­cial fall­out in civil court.

By a 13-0 vote, the coun­cil ap­proved the pay­ment to the woman, iden­ti­fied in fed­eral court doc­u­ments only as “Jane Doe No. 2.”

She was one of four women who sued the city over the al­leged acts of Luis Valen­zuela and James Ni­chols, veteran LAPD of­fi­cers who now face up to life in prison if con­victed of charges that they raped and as­saulted four women between late 2008 and 2011.

Valen­zuela and Ni­chols, both 45, have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are await­ing trial. The of­fi­cers, who have been relieved of duty, have re­mained be­hind bars since they were ar­rested by de­tec­tives from their own depart­ment in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

The of­fi­cers had pre­vi­ously taken the vic­tims to jail or used them as in­for­mants, pros­e­cu­tors said. Most of the as­saults, they added, took place while the of­fi­cers were on duty.

The Times first re­ported the al­le­ga­tions against the of­fi­cers in 2013 when LAPD de­tec­tives ob­tained a search war­rant to seize the of­fi­cers’ com­put­ers and phones.

In her law­suit, Jane Doe No. 2 ac­cused the of­fi­cers of driv­ing her to a se­cluded park­ing lot in Hol­ly­wood in De­cem­ber 2008. There, she said, in the back of an LAPD car, Ni­chols “ex­posed him­self, grabbed her hand and forced her to per­form a sex­ual act on him,” ac­cord­ing to her law­suit. He then al­legedly grabbed her head and tried to force her to per­form oral sex.

Valen­zuela was in the front seat en­cour­ag­ing the as­sault, the law­suit al­leged. Af­ter it ended, the woman wrote in court pa­pers, the of­fi­cers threat­ened her and “told her to keep quiet.”

The woman said she felt es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to the of­fi­cers’ threats be­cause she worked as a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant for the LAPD.

The al­le­ga­tions in the law­suit mir­ror tes­ti­mony the woman gave at a pre­lim­i­nary hearing last year, in which she and two other women al­legedly at­tacked by the of­fi­cers de­scribed fright­en­ing run-ins with the men.

At the two-day hearing, the women de­scribed the of­fi­cers as­sault­ing them, some­times in the back of their un­marked po­lice car af­ter driv­ing to se­cluded lo­ca­tions. One woman wept as she tes­ti­fied about her at­tack and what hap­pened when it was over.

“He tried to kiss me af­ter that and say it wasn’t that bad,” she said.

A fourth vic­tim’s ac­count was pre­sented by a de­tec­tive at the hearing.

Af­ter the hearing, lawyers for the of­fi­cers con­tended that the women knew each other and that their ac­counts were un­cor­rob­o­rated.

All four women filed civil law­suits against the city. The City Coun­cil pre­vi­ously agreed to pay one woman $575,000, and an­other $750,000. Wed­nes­day’s vote sig­nals the end of the third case — and a to­tal bill, so far, of nearly $1.8 mil­lion to set­tle the cases.

The fi­nal law­suit is still mak­ing its way through civil court.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to tak­ing it to trial,” said at­tor­ney Dan Miller, who rep­re­sents three of the women, in­clud­ing Jane Doe No. 2.

“What oc­curred here is hor­rific,” he said of the of­fi­cers’ al­leged ac­tions.

The City Coun­cil also agreed Wed­nes­day to pay nearly $1 mil­lion to set­tle an­other LAPD-re­lated case. Of­fi­cer Ron­ald Gray sued the city last year, ac­cus­ing the LAPD of re­tal­i­at­ing against him for “chal­leng­ing and re­port­ing” what he con­sid­ered a mis­use of equip­ment pur­chased with fed­eral grant money for a coun­tert­er­ror­ism unit.

In a 13-0 vote, the coun­cil opted to pay up to $950,000 to set­tle Gray’s case.

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