Two veteran Los Angeles police officers pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that they sexually assaulted four women, mostly while on duty.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II ordered James Christopher Nichols, 44, to remain jailed in lieu of $3.835 million bail and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, 43, to be held in lieu of $3.765 million bail. The two — who worked as partners in the LAPD’s Hollywood Division — are due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse March 16, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial.
Defense attorney Robert Rico said outside court that Nichols is “denying any involvement in any of these alleged offenses” and that his client is “shocked that the charges were filed.”
As for whether bail will be posted on Nichols’ behalf, Rico said it’s something he needs to discuss with his client.
“Mr. Valenzuela vehemently denies any misconduct by him or any criminal activity by him,” his attorney, Bill Seki, told reporters outside court. “So we look forward to the opportunity to look through all of the evidence to establish a defense for them to prove his innocence.”
He said his client will not be able to post bail and will likely remain in custody until the evidence against him is presented at a preliminary hearing.
Nichols, a 15-year LAPD veteran, is charged with five counts each of forcible rape and rape by threat to arrest or deport and one count each of forcible oral copulation, oral copulation under color of authority, attempted forcible oral copulation, attempted oral copulation under color of authority and sexual battery.
He was arrested about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday by detectives from the department’s Robbery Homicide division.
Valenzuela, who has been with the department for 18 years, is charged with three counts each of forcible rape and rape by threat to arrest or deport and one count each of forcible oral copulation, oral copulation under color of authority, attempted forcible oral copulation, attempted oral copulation under color of authority, assault with a firearm and sexual battery.
He was arrested at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday, also by Robbery Homicide detectives.
The charges stem from a series of alleged attacks on four women between 19 and 34 years old beginning in December 2008, after the two officers became partners, and continuing through March 2011 at various locations, including in their police vehicle, according to prosecutors.
All four of the women were arrested at various times by the officers in connection with narcotics-related offenses, and most of the alleged assaults occurred while the officers were on duty, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The criminal complaint alleges that one of the women was sexually assaulted on four separate occasions — twice by Nichols, once by Valenzuela and once by both of the officers — between August 2009 and March 2011. The complaint also alleges that another woman was sexually assaulted on two separate occasions in December 2009 — twice by Nichols and once by Valenzuela. Attorney Dennis Chang, who represents two of the alleged victims, said outside court that “it is not a happy day” for the women.
“It is a painful day that reopens some violent wounds that they would prefer not to be reminded of,” he told reporters. He noted that a lawsuit involving one of the women was settled for $575,000, and he is in the process of filing a claim on behalf of another woman. Nichols and Valenzuela could face up to life in state prison if convicted of the charges. According to the LAPD, both officers have been “relieved from duty” without pay but are still with the department.
“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,” Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said.
Beck, speaking to reporters at a late-afternoon news conference on Wednesday, said the officers “disrespected themselves, their badges” and their oath of office. Nichols’ attorney said his client is “extremely distressed and disappointed” by the police chief’s comments. “He is inserting himself in the criminal justice system, which he should not have done,” Rico said. “It infects potential jurors.”
— Wire reports