LAPD Officers Plead Not Guilty to Rape Charges

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two veteran LAPD officers accused of sexually assaulting four women while on duty pleaded not guilty Thursday to the criminal charges.
     James Nichols, 44, and Luis Valenzuela, 43, were arraigned in the afternoon at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Both men were present in custody, wearing orange county jail garb.
     Their attorneys Robert Rico and Bill Seki entered pleas of not guilty on their behalf on charges of forcible rape, rape under color of authority, oral copulation, oral copulation under color of authority, oral copulation by force and multiple other counts.
     Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sergio Tapia set bail at $3.83 million for Nichols and $3.76 million for Valenzuela.
     Prosecutors say that between December 2008 and March 2011 the partners sexually assaulted four women who were 18 to 34 years old. The officers had arrested them for drug-related offenses, and prosecutors say some of the assaults took place in the officers’ car and while they were on duty.
     After an LAPD investigation, the officers were relieved of duty in 2013. Nichols is a 15-year veteran of the police department, while Valenzuela has been an officer for 18 years.
     The LAPD 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.
     One of the officers’ alleged victims, Tara McMahon, filed a federal civil complaint against the men for assault and sexual battery in 2014.
     McMahon said she was walking her dog in Hollywood in late 2009 when Valenzuela and Nichols pulled up in a 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 stated. “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.”
     According to a mediation report filed at Federal Court this week McMahon has settled the case with the city for an undisclosed amount, subject to the City Council’s approval.
     The defendants are to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on March 16.
     If convicted, both men could face life in state prison.

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