2 LAPD officers are charged with sexually assaulting women while on duty

Source: Kate Mather/Los Angeles Times

Two Los Angeles police officers have been charged with sexual assaults on four women, usually while the officers were on duty, prosecutors said Wednesday.

James Christopher Nichols and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela were charged Tuesday with multiple counts, including forcible rape, rape under color of authority and oral copulation under the color of authority, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said.

The two are accused of assaulting four women — ages 19, 24, 25 and 35 — between December 2008 and March 2011, prosecutors said. All four of the women had been arrested by the officers for drug-related crimes.

Valenzuela also was charged with assault with a firearm for pointing a gun at one of the victims, prosecutors said.

“These two officers have disgraced themselves, they’ve disgraced this badge, they’ve disgraced their oath of office,” a somber Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I am extremely troubled by what they’ve done.”

The officers were arrested by detectives from their own department Wednesday, Beck said. LAPD investigators have been working the case for years, initially as an internal affairs inquiry before it was handed to the elite Robbery-Homicide Division in 2014.

Beck declined to discuss many details of the case, but said the investigation involved dozens of interviews, forensic analysis, long-term surveillance and search warrants. Detectives also “looked tirelessly” for other potential victims, the chief said.

When asked about the length of time it took from the start of the investigation until Wednesday’s arrests, Beck said such cases “take a lot of time.” The officers, he said, “preyed on folks that are sometimes reluctant” witnesses or victims that are “sometimes are hard to locate.”

Investigators worked “hand and glove” with prosecutors to “make sure that we had this case as good as we could get it,” Beck said.

“When we got the district attorney’s assurance that she would file, we went out and physically tracked down these — and I use the term loosely — officers and put them in handcuffs,” the chief said.

Beck stressed that the officers had not worked on city streets since they were relieved of duty without pay in 2013. They are awaiting the administrative hearings needed to fire them, he added.

If convicted, the pair face up to life in state prison.