Prosecutor: Ex-cop used power to “prey on women”

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Jury considers verdict for ex-Oklahoma cop in sex assaults.

OKLAHOMA CITY – The latest on the trial of a former police officer in Oklahoma City who has been accused by 13 women of rape or sexual assault (all times are local): Jurors in Oklahoma City met for hours to deliberate the fate of a former policeman accused of sexually victimizing 13 women in the low-income neighborhood he patrolled. Jurors began deliberations Monday evening and worked until early Tuesday morning, when the judge announced they had not reached a verdict but were done for the day.

McConnell said Holtzclaw targeted drug addicts and other women with felony records who he could intimidate with threats of being jailed in order to prevent them from reporting the assaults to authorities. “Officer Holtzclaw counted on that,” McConnell told jurors. “Officer Holtzclaw is heady from these powers. During a monthlong trial, jurors heard from 13 women who alleged Holtzclaw preyed on them during traffic stops or in other instances while wearing his uniform and badge. The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger, said many of the accusers have had troubled lives but said the law protects them as much as anyone else. “This officer violated an oath to protect this community,” Gieger said. “He exercised authority on those society doesn’t care about. Holtzclaw’s attorney attacked the credibility of the women and questioned why most didn’t come forward until police identified them as possible victims. Convince these ladies that someone does care about them.” The jury began deliberating Monday evening after nearly five hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

In a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement, The Associated Press reported last month that it had uncovered about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included possession of child pornography; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse. The number is unquestionably an undercount because it represents only those officers whose licenses to work in law enforcement were revoked, and not all states take such action. The 13 women testified over the past month of the trial that Holtzclaw stopped them in the neighborhoods where they lived, and sexually victimized them. California and New York — with several of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies — offered no records because they have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct.

In interviews, lawyers and even police chiefs told the AP that some departments also stay quiet about improprieties to limit liability, allowing bad officers to quietly resign, keep their certification and sometimes jump to other jobs. But their actions have an outsized impact — miring departments in litigation that leads to costly settlements, crippling relationships with an already wary public and scarring victims with a special brand of fear. On a checkerboard of sessions on everything from electronic surveillance to speed enforcement, police chiefs who gathered for an annual meeting in 2007 saw a discussion on sex offenses by officers added to the agenda.

More than 70 chiefs packed into a room, and when asked if they had dealt with an officer accused of sexual misdeeds, nearly every attendee raised a hand. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which collects police data from around the country, doesn’t track officer arrests, and states aren’t required to collect or share that information. To measure the problem, the AP obtained records from 41 states on police decertification, an administrative process in which an officer’s law enforcement license is revoked.

Cases from 2009 through 2014 were then reviewed to determine whether they stemmed from misconduct meeting the Department of Justice standard for sexual assault — sexual contact that happens without consent, including intercourse, sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape. The law enforcement officials in these records included state and local police, sheriff’s deputies, prison guards and school resource officers; no federal officers were included because the records reviewed came from state police standards commissions. Because of gaps in the information provided by the states, it was impossible to discern any other distinct patterns, other than a propensity for officers to use the power of their badge to prey on the vulnerable. Some but not all of the decertified officers faced criminal charges; some offenders were able to avoid prosecution by agreeing to surrender their certifications.

Victims included unsuspecting motorists, schoolchildren ordered to raise their shirts in a supposed search for drugs, police interns taken advantage of, women with legal troubles who succumbed to performing sex acts for promised help, and prison inmates forced to have sex with guards. The AP’s findings, coupled with other research and interviews with experts, suggest that sexual misconduct is among the most prevalent type of complaint against law officers. Phil Stinson, a researcher at Bowling Green State University, analyzed news articles between 2005 and 2011 and found 6,724 arrests involving more than 5,500 officers.

The victim told investigators that despite telling him no “what felt like 1,000 times,” he removed her clothes, fondled her and forced her to touch him — at one point cuffing her hands. In Florida, Jonathan Bleiweiss of the Broward Sheriff’s Office was sentenced to a five-year prison term in February for bullying about 20 immigrant men into sex acts. And in New Mexico, Michael Garcia of the Las Cruces Police was sentenced last November to nine years in federal prison for sexually assaulting a high school police intern. The victim, Diana Guerrero, said in court that the assault left her feeling “like a piece of trash,” dashed her dreams of becoming an officer, and triggered depression, nightmares and flashbacks. “It had never occurred to me that a person who had earned a badge would do this to me or anybody else,” said Guerrero, who is now 21 and agreed to her name being published. “I lost my faith in everything, everyone, even in myself.” A 2011 International Association of Chiefs of Police report on sex misconduct questioned whether some conditions of the job may create opportunities for such incidents. Officers’ power, independence, off-hours and engagement with those perceived as less credible combine to give cover to predators, it said, and otherwise admirable bonds of loyalty can lead colleagues to shield offenders. “You see officers throughout your career that deal with that power really well, and you see officers over your career that don’t,” said Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty, who fired Holtzclaw just months after the allegations surfaced and called the case a troubling reminder that police chiefs need to be careful about how they hire and train officers.

By that afternoon, Miranda rights were being read to the suspect, an officer who had arrived out of the academy nearly three years earlier, a seemingly natural move for the son of a career policeman but one borne of deep disappointment. He found traces of life on the field in his life on the beat, telling a reporter for his hometown paper that he enjoyed high-speed chases and once charged through two fences while pursuing a suspect on foot on a snow-slicked winter day. According to pretrial testimony, the detectives reviewed the names of women Holtzclaw had come into contact with on his 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift and interviewed each one, saying they had a tip she may have been assaulted by an officer. By the time the investigation concluded, the detectives had assembled a six-month narrative of alleged sex crimes they said started Dec. 20, 2013, with a woman taken into custody and hospitalized while high on angel dust.

Dressed in a hospital gown, her right wrist handcuffed to the bedrail, the woman said Holtzclaw coerced her into performing oral sex, suggesting her cooperation would lead to dropped charges. Supporters of the former officer who congregate on social media express hope that others’ claims will be proven false, too, and friends wear T-shirts that say “Free the Claw.” Earlier this year, while out on bond, Holtzclaw answered the door of his parents’ Enid home, saying of the allegations: “I’m not going to make any comment about it.” His attorney, Scott Adams, canceled an interview and did not respond to calls, emails and a letter. Adams’ line of questioning at the pretrial hearing suggests he will raise doubts about the accusers’ credibility and portray investigators as having coaxed the women into saying they were attacked. The youngest accuser said Holtzclaw first approached her when she was with two friends who were arguing and he learned she had an outstanding warrant for trespassing. She said he offered her a ride and then followed her to the front porch, reminding her of her warrant, accusing her of hiding drugs and warning her not to make things more difficult than they needed to be.

Jackie Simmons said she found it too daunting to bring her accusation to another police officer after being raped by a cop in 1998 while visiting Kansas for a wedding. Her notions of good and evil challenged, she became enraged whenever she saw patrol cars marked “Protect and Serve.” “You feel really powerless,” said Simmons, an elementary school principal in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who works with Pandora’s Project, a support group for rape survivors. Fellow officers, she said, refused to turn on one another when questioned. “It starts with the officer denying the allegations — ‘she’s crazy,’ ‘she’s lying,'” Wetendorf said. “And the other officers say they didn’t see anything, they didn’t hear anything.” In its 2011 report, the IACP recommended that agencies institute policies specifically addressing sexual misconduct, saying “tolerance at any level will invite more of the same conduct.” The report also urged stringent screening of hires. John Firman, the IACP’s research director, said the organization also is encouraging its chiefs to hire more women and minorities as a way to improve the environment inside departments. They knew how to make her look like a nut,” she said. “How are you going to get anything to happen when he’s part of the system and when he threatens you and when you know he has a gun and … you know he can find you wherever you go?” While he and his attorneys have remained mostly silent on the accusations, he has offered glimpses of his life in online postings.

In the Oklahoma City neighborhood that prosecutors say served as Holtzclaw’s hunting ground, a narrow ribbon of road twists through a canyon of untended growth littered with black bags of stinking trash. She had been jailed many times before, and knew the math: a 15-minute ride downtown, two hours to be booked, up to a day of waiting to move to a cell, hearings drawn out over weeks or months. Bowen agreed to have her name published, and initially she offered a steely front, contending no fear or sadness lingered from her alleged encounter with Holtzclaw.

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