Woman who fell from police car alleges sexual assault by officer
A woman who fell out of a moving Los Angeles police car has accused an officer of sexually assaulting her while she was handcuffed in the back seat of the vehicle.
The 28-year-old woman detailed the alleged assault in recent sworn testimony as part of a lawsuit against the officer, his partner and the Los Angeles Police Department, according to a transcript of the testimony reviewed by The Times.
At some point after the officer and his partner took the woman into custody on suspicion of public intoxication on March 17 last year, “he was grabbing my left inner thigh, you know, trying to — I’m assuming opening my legs, touching my chest, grabbing at it,” the woman told an attorney for the city in a deposition. The woman said the officer pulled her clothing down around her waist during the attack, leaving only an undergarment covering her.
The Times generally does not name victims of sexual assault.
The woman acknowledged that her recollection of the incident was not complete, saying she could not recall which of the two officers who took her into custody allegedly assaulted her. Although her recollection of her time in the patrol car was reduced to “flashes,” she said she clearly remembered an officer assaulting her.
The allegations add more questions to an already odd encounter, in which the officers’ account of the fall has come under suspicion. The Times first reported on the incident last year.
Sometime after 1:30 a.m., at the end of a night out at a Korean restaurant and downtown club, the woman and two male friends were waiting on 6th Street for a sober friend to pick them up when the LAPD officers pulled up. According to the woman’s testimony, the officers quickly departed after asking whether she knew the two men and if they were bothering her. A short time later, the woman recalled, the officers returned as she drunkenly ran down the sidewalk and one of her friends grabbed her from behind in a bear hug.
Shouting expletives, one of the officers ordered the friend to let go of the woman and then handcuffed her, she testified. The woman said she heard the officers tell her friend they were taking her into custody because she was intoxicated but refused to say where they were taking her.
After driving for some time, the woman testified, the officers pulled over. One climbed into the back seat, she said, and began “assaulting me, molesting me.”
“I was struggling trying to get him off me. I said, ‘What are you doing? You are a police officer.’ I said, ‘Stop,’” the woman testified. The second officer began driving again as the alleged assault continued, she testified.
How the woman fell from the police car is not known. The rear doors of patrol cars cannot be unlocked by someone sitting in the back seat. Officers are supposed to lock a patrol car’s back doors and put a seat belt on a suspect whenever they transport someone. The woman testified that the officers never put a seat belt on her.
A video taken by a security camera on a nearby building captured the moments just before and after the fall. In it, the patrol car is seen traveling east along Olympic Boulevard and passing through the intersection at Grand Avenue a few minutes after 3 a.m. Moments later, the surveillance camera pans and zooms in on the woman lying motionless in the street. The video does not show whether an officer was in the back seat at the time of the fall.
The footage contradicts an account of the woman’s fall that the officers gave paramedics. In a report on the incident, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times, paramedics who treated the woman wrote that, according to the officers, the woman had fallen out as the patrol car accelerated to about 10 mph after coming to a stop at a traffic light. The video, however, shows the patrol car traveling at what appears to be a much faster speed and passing through the intersection without stopping or slowing.
The fall shattered the woman’s jaw and left her with severe headaches and pain, she said. Several surgeries have been required to repair her jaw and do extensive dental and cosmetic work.
In the hospital, doctors kept the woman heavily sedated and wired her jaw shut, which prevented her from recounting the alleged attack for several days, she said. Medical records reviewed by The Times show that family members urged medical staff to examine the woman for signs she was sexually assaulted. In her testimony, the woman said a doctor did examine extensive bruising on her inner thigh and performed a gynecological exam but said she was unaware what the doctor concluded.
Asked why she didn’t report the alleged attack to police, the woman responded that she was “really scared and paranoid” that doing so might lead to some sort of reprisal.
Medical records show the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division was alerted to the woman’s allegations, and Cmdr. Andy Smith, a spokesman for the LAPD, said an internal investigation was opened immediately. That investigation, he said, remains open because the woman’s attorney has not allowed investigators to interview her. Department officials had not yet reviewed the woman’s deposition, Smith said.
Citing confidentiality laws, Smith refused to discuss the investigation. The two officers, he said, remain in the field.