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LA Settles Civil Case Against Officers Accused of Rape

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a $750,000 civil settlement with an alleged victim of two LAPD officers charged with sexual assault, but still faces claims from two others demanding $3 million in damages.

County prosecutors say that between December 2008 and March 2011, officers James Nichols and Luis Valenzuela sexually assaulted four women while they worked at the Hollywood Division on a narcotics beat.

The two men were charged in February at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center with more than dozen felonies accusing them of rape under color of authority, oral copulation, and other counts.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Nichols and Valenzuela had arrested the women, aged between 18 and 34, for drug-related offenses, and prosecutors say some of the assaults took place in the officers' car and while they were on duty.

In a closed session on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve a $750,000 settlement with Tara McMahon, who filed a federal civil complaint against the men claiming assault and sexual battery in 2014.

During a telephone interview, McMahon's attorney Dan Miller said that his firm is representing two more women in civil cases against Los Angeles and the police officers.

"The city should step up and compensate these victims for the despicable acts of these officers who are now facing criminal charges," the Miller Barondess attorney told Courthouse News.

Los Angeles City Attorney's Office spokesman Frank Mateljan confirmed the settlement of $750,000 had been approved Wednesday by the City Council in the case pending in U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder's courtroom.

"The involved officers, Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols, have been relieved of duty without pay since June 2013," Mateljan wrote in an email. "Outside counsel represent them. Both officers were indicted in February by the District Attorney's office. There are four victims, two have sued and settled, two more are suing in two new cases."

In her federal lawsuit, McMahon said she was walking her dog in Hollywood in late 2009 when Valenzuela and Nichols pulled up in an LAPD-owned Volkswagen Jetta assigned to them for plainclothes work and ordered her inside. Valenzuela then drove them to a secluded spot, she said.

"Nichols reached back and took McMahon's dog, while Valenzuela got out and entered the back seat with McMahon," the lawsuit states. "Nichols kept a lookout in the front seat while Valenzuela, using force and threats, sexually assaulted McMahon in the back seat. Valenzuela then threatened her and said she would be in danger if she told anyone."

Two other complaints were filed last month by plaintiffs identifying themselves as "Jane Doe" and "Jane Doe #2," respectively.

Jane Doe says that Valenzuela raped her in the Jetta before booking her into the Van Nuys Women's Detention Center in Van Nuys, and that Nichols sexually assaulted her in the same vehicle. Both assaults took place in December 2009, she says.

In her complaint, Jane Doe #2 says Nichols "exposed himself to plaintiff, grabbed her hand and forced her to perform an unwanted sexual act on him in the back of his LAPD vehicle" in December 2008.

Nichols "grabbed plaintiff's head and tried to force her to perform oral sex on him" while Valenzuela remained in the front of the Jetta but "encouraged the sexual assault," according to her 14-page federal complaint.

"Plaintiff was not Nichols' and Valenzuela's only victim. Between 2008 and 2010, the officers committed similar sexual assaults on at least four other women. The officers' modus operandi in each case was the same: find a vulnerable victim (usually a drug user), earn her trust, and then threaten her with arrest. Then, using the LAPD's vehicle and acting under color of authority, drive her to a secluded place and force her to perform a sexual act on one of the officers," Doe #2 says.

Both women filed administrative claims against the City of Los Angeles that were denied, according to the lawsuits.

Jane Doe says she learned of an investigation into the two officers when LAPD detectives contacted her in October and that she told them she was the officers' fifth alleged victim.

LAPD internal affairs told the other Jane Doe that it would investigate the assaults but "dissuaded" her from bringing a claim, according to the suit.

The women are each demanding $3 million in damages for assault, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other counts.

Nichols is a 15-year veteran of the police department. Valenzuela has been an officer for 18 years.

The department has said that it will continue to investigate the case.

"I will say again, any officer that abuses the public's trust is not welcome in the LAPD and we will continue vigorously investigating officers accused of alleged crimes and cooperate fully with the District Attorney's office," Police Chief Charlie Beck said in February.

If convicted, both men could face life in state prison.

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