PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) – A former drug informant for the Fort Mohave Tribal Police says a detective raped her under threat of sending her to prison, and that a county attorney failed to prosecute him after finding out about the abuse.
Erika Solem claims in Federal Court that Det. Jeffrey Sohmer and police Officer John Lavus sexually harassed and molested her several times after she agreed to make undercover drug buys for the tribal police in exchange for probation.
Solem faced up to 15 years in prison for possession of methamphetamine, stemming from a 2008 arrest. The Mohave County Attorney’s Office assigned her to Sohmer, who soon began a pattern of inappropriate comments and groping that culminated in rape, according to the complaint.
The incidents occurred in or near the small desert community of Fort Mohave, on the 22,000-acre Fort Mohave Indian Reservation on the Colorado River.
“Detective Sohmer, after being provided control of Erika’s freedom and fate pursuant to the agreement, on multiple occasions sexually assaulted Erika by coercing her into oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and other vulgar sex acts, causing severe emotional and physical harm to Erika, and depriving her of numerous rights under the United States Constitution and Arizona Constitution,” the complaint states.
“Erika feared going to prison for five to 15 years if she violated the agreement by denying or rejecting Detective Sohmer’s gross sexual conduct. Erika suffered significant deprivations of her liberty, due process rights, equal protection rights, right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the negligence of Mohave County, Michael P. McGill, Matthew J. Smith, The Mohave County Attorney’s Office, and the intentional and negligent acts of Jeffrey Sohmer and John Lavus.”
Solem says that Sohmer and Lavus took her out to the desert several times to prepare her for drug buys. On the fourth such occasion, she says, Sohmer talked about sex and kept her there for five or six hours.
“Defendant Sohmer told plaintiff Solem about all of the sexual positions that methamphetamine drug addicts (i.e. ‘tweakers’) enjoy,” the complaint states (parenthesis in original). “Defendant Lavus and defendant Sohmer told plaintiff Solem that she was becoming physically attractive ever since she became clean.”
Another time, she says Sohmer took her to lunch and kissed her without her consent. He drove her to a secluded spot by the river and “unzippered his pants, lowered his pants and exposed his penis,” according to the complaint. “Plaintiff Solem was terrified, fearful, and afraid to refuse defendant Sohmer’s sexual advances,” the complaint states.
“Defendant Sohmer grabbed plaintiff Solem by the back of the head and forced her head toward his penis.”
On another day, Solem says, Sohmer drove her to a secluded spot in the desert and “stripped down nude” after forcing her to buy condoms at a gas station.
“Defendant Sohmer, while nude, began disrobing plaintiff Solem without her consent,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff Solem remained stiff and rigid as the nonconsensual sexual abuse took place, out of fear of retaliation and the powers vested in defendant Sohmer pursuant to the agreement, and the powers of defendant [Mohave County prosecutor Michael P.] McGill to terminate the agreement if plaintiff Solem failed to maintain ‘personal contact’ with defendant Sohmer, or violated any other provision of the agreement.”
The complaint states: “Sohmer inserted his penis into plaintiff Solem’s vagina without plaintiff Solem’s consent and done by the force and coercion applied pursuant to the threat of physical harm and the agreement. Plaintiff Solem felt extreme physical and emotional pain during the unwanted sexual intercourse that was a rape.
Plaintiff Solem told defendant Sohmer to hurry up, hoping to end the assault sooner.
“Defendant Sohmer removed his penis from plaintiff Solem’s vagina.
“Defendant Sohmer ejaculated onto plaintiff Solem’s face.
“Plaintiff Solem felt semen hit her in her eyes, causing physical injury.
“Plaintiff Solem used a towel to wipe defendant Sohmer’s semen off her face.
“Plaintiff Solem never consented to sexual intercourse and was coerced by defendant Sohmer into sexual intercourse, under color of law and the authority granted to him in the Agreement.”
Solem says she relapsed into drug use “as a result of the distress and fear caused by defendant Lavus and defendant Sohmer.”
“Plaintiff Solem told defendant Sohmer that she no longer was willing to compromise her integrity and sobriety and therefore wanted to end the agreement,” the complaint states. “Defendant Sohmer threatened plaintiff Solem that she would go to prison for nine years if she ended the agreement because of the embarrassment it would cause defendant Sohmer.”
Eventually, Solem says, she contacted a lawyer and showed him text messages that Sohmer had sent her. The lawyer contacted McGill with the evidence.
McGill investigated and Sohmer admitted his actions, according to the complaint. Solem says McGill subsequently dismissed all of the charges against her, but failed to prosecute the police officers.
“Upon information and belief, defendant McGill knew of the inappropriate, illegal sexual assaults, rapes, molestations, and abuses committed by defendant Sohmer and thus dismissed all criminal charges against plaintiff Solem, which was above and beyond the benefit provided for in the agreement,” the complaint states. “Upon information and belief, even after discovering the gross and illegal violations of plaintiff Solem’s person, effects, and civil rights, defendant McGill failed to report defendant Sohmer’s actions for criminal investigation, even though the actions were criminal in nature.”
Solem seeks punitive damages for agency liability, policy liability, negligence, ratification of negligent decisions of a subordinate by an official, permanent and well-established practice, failure to train, unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, deprivation of equal protection and deprivation of due process. She sued Sohmer, Lavus, McGill, Mohave County Attorney Matthew J. Smith, Mohave County and the Mohave County Attorney’s Office.
She is represented by Ryan Stevens with McGuire Gardner in Flagstaff.