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Woman who accused LAPD officers of sexual coercion settles lawsuit

The City Council approves a $575,000 payout to one of four women who accused two officers of abusing their authority.

January 15, 2014|Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times
  • A woman has reached a settlement with the LAPD over a sex abuse case, officials announced Wednesday.
A woman has reached a settlement with the LAPD over a sex abuse case, officials… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

A woman who accused two Los Angeles police officers of threatening her with jail unless she had sex with them will be paid $575,000 to settle her lawsuit against the city.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the payout to the woman, who is one of four women to accuse officers James Nichols and Luis Valenzuela of coercing them into having sex with them, according to court documents. The Times generally does not name alleged sex crime victims.

Nichols and Valenzuela, both 41, were working as narcotics detectives in Hollywood in 2010 when they arrested the woman, according to one of her attorneys, Dennis Chang, and a search warrant affidavit LAPD investigators filed as part of a criminal investigation into the officers' conduct.

The officers offered to help free the woman from custody as she awaited trial and win her a lenient sentence if she agreed in exchange to work for them as an informant on other investigations, according to Chang and the affidavit.

"Their power over her was abundantly clear from the get go," Chang said.

Over the next year, Nichols and Valenzuela confronted the woman repeatedly, telling her they would no longer help her in her case unless she had sex with them, Chang and the affidavit said. She agreed, she told investigators, out of fear the officers would send her back to jail if she refused.

In March 2010, Valenzuela showed up at the woman's apartment while he was off duty and, several months later, had sex with her in the back seat of an unmarked undercover car while he was working, according to the affidavit. Nichols, the woman told investigators, brought her to a hotel and, on a later encounter, had sex with her in her apartment, the affidavit alleges.

The officers used similar threats on three other woman who also worked for them as informants or knew the officers from previous arrests, the affidavit states. One of the women said the two officers pulled up alongside her in a Volkswagen Jetta as she was walking her dog in Hollywood. The officers, whom she recognized as the same cops who had arrested her previously, ordered her into the car, according to the affidavit.

The woman said she felt compelled to comply. Valenzuela, she said, got into the back seat with her and handed her dog to Nichols, who drove the car a short distance to a more secluded area. "Why don't you cut out that tough girl crap," the woman recounted Valenzuela saying as he forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to police records contained in the warrant.

The woman who settled the lawsuit was "pleased to get it behind her," Chang said. "She was not excited to have to go through a trial."

She is currently serving a 7-year prison sentence for identity theft and drug possession, Chang said.

Attorneys for the officers could not be reached. In an earlier interview, Nichols' attorney, Robert Rico, said the woman and the other accusers "had no credibility."

Valenzuela, a 16-year department veteran, and Nichols, who has been an officer for 13 years, are awaiting disciplinary hearings, where it will be decided whether to fire them. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are currently reviewing the case to decide whether to file criminal charges, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck declined to comment on the settlement, citing the ongoing internal proceedings against the officers. "The department will do the right thing, even if these officers didn't," he said.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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