California

‘They terrorized them.’ Two LAPD cops plead no contest to raping women while on duty

Former Los Angeles Police Department officers Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, left, and James Christopher Nichols received 25-year prison sentences Monday after pleading no contest to raping women while on duty.
Former Los Angeles Police Department officers Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, left, and James Christopher Nichols received 25-year prison sentences Monday after pleading no contest to raping women while on duty. KTLA

The two cops were accused of raping women in alleys, apartments – and their unmarked police car.

James Christopher Nichols, 46, and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, 45, former Los Angeles Police Department partners in the Hollywood Division, pleaded no contest Monday to two counts each of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation, reported the Los Angeles Daily News. They received 25-year prison sentences and must register as sex offenders in a plea deal to avoid the possibility of serving life in prison.

Nichols and Valenzuela were accused of attacking four women between 2008 and 2011, reported KABC. The women, ages 19 to 34, were involved in narcotics investigations, and the LAPD officers forced the women to have sex with them to avoid jail time or being exposed as police informants, court documents say.

“Every time I see a police car while driving, a panic takes over me,” one woman testified, according to KABC. “My heart starts to beat so fast like it’s about to explode.”

The officers forced the women to have sex with them in the back of their undercover Volkswagen Jetta or in other locations after arresting them on drug charges, according to testimony reported in the Los Angeles Times. In some cases, one of the officers would stand guard while the other assaulted a woman. Investigators believe there might have been additional victims who chose not to come forward.

The two men were taken off duty in 2013 and arrested in 2016, KCAL reported. Three of the four women involved have reached civil settlements with the city for $450,000 to $750,000 each. The fourth woman’s civil case is pending.

According to an earlier KCAL story, Nichols was a 15-year LAPD veteran while Valenzuela had been with the department for 18 years.

“How dare they. They wore a badge to protect people and instead they terrorized them,” Detective Carla Zuniga, one of the lead investigators in the case, told the Los Angeles Times. “They tarnished the public trust. People trust the police. Every time something like this happens, we have to walk into the community and say, ‘No, that’s not us.’ 

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