By Emily Alpert Reyes, LA Times – April 21, 2016 – The city of Los Angeles will pay $750,000 to settle a civil lawsuit brought by a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a Los Angeles police officer in the back of his car while his partner acted as a lookout.
The City Council voted Wednesday to approve the payout to the plaintiff, who is among at least four women who have accused the two officers of coercing them into sexual acts, according to court documents. The Times generally does not name alleged sex crime victims.
The two officers named in the lawsuit, Luis Valenzuela and his partner, James C. Nichols, were charged earlier this year with raping and sexually assaulting several women while on duty.
County prosecutors allege that the two men preyed on women together and alone from late 2008 to 2011, abusing some in the back seat of their unmarked police car and threatening their victims with arrest if they did not do as they said.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. If convicted, Valenzuela and Nichols could each be sentenced to up to life in prison.
Attorneys who represented Valenzuela and Nichols in the civil suit did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
LAPD spokesman Capt. Andrew Neiman said both men had been relieved of duty without pay, barring them from acting as peace officers. Neither has been terminated, which would happen through a process that follows the adjudication of any criminal charges, Neiman said.
Valenzuela and Nichols were placed on unpaid leave more than two years ago, after a halting internal investigation that was first launched when one of the women stepped forward. Criminal charges were eventually filed after an elite investigative unit took over the case.
The woman who brought the lawsuit said that in September 2009, Valenzuela and Nichols ordered her into their car as she was walking her dog, then drove the car to a secluded location where Valenzuela sexually assaulted her while Nichols kept a lookout in the front seat.
In the lawsuit, the woman said she later recounted her story to detectives after being arrested and brought to the Hollywood station five years ago. Police repeatedly told her not to hire a lawyer and urged her to be patient, according to her complaint.
The lawsuit alleges the city strung her along “to keep her quiet and avoid getting sued.” The woman hired a lawyer after reading about other lawsuits against the officers, her suit says.
The city agreed two years ago to pay $575,000 to settle one of those other cases, brought by another woman who accused the men of threatening her with jail unless she had sex with them.
Los Angeles faces additional legal challenges tied to the allegations against Nichols and Valenzuela. Two other women recently sued the city over alleged assaults by the officers, each asking more than $3 million in damages.
Attorney Dan Miller, who represents those two women as well as the woman whose settlement was approved Wednesday, said he hoped their cases would soon be resolved.
“The city should step up and compensate these victims for the despicable acts of these officers who have now been criminally charged,” Miller said.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.