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Woman sexually assaulted by LAPD officers reaches $2-million settlement

Woman sexually assaulted by LAPD officers reaches $2-million settlement
Los Angeles Police Officers James C. Nichols, seated, and Luis Valenzuela appear in a downtown L.A. courtroom on 2018 to enter no-contest pleas to sexually assaulting multiple women. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A woman who was sexually assaulted by two Los Angeles police officers will receive nearly $2 million from the city, according to an agreement filed in federal court on Monday.

The settlement, which needs to be approved by the City Council, comes on top of nearly $1.8 million in payouts to three other victims, bringing the total cost of civil lawsuits involving the two officers to more than $3.7 million.

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The officers, Luis Valenzuela and James C. Nichols, are serving 25-year prison sentences after pleading no contest to felony counts of sexually assaulting women they were taking to jail or using as confidential informants.

“The LAPD is supposed to protect and serve — that’s their motto,” said Dan Miller, an attorney for the victim in the latest settlement, identified in her lawsuit as Jane Doe. “These two officers abused their power and used it to sexually assault women.”

The victim was arrested on suspicion of a narcotics violation in December 2009, according to the lawsuit.

As they drove her to jail in their unmarked Volkswagen Jetta, Valenzuela and Nichols asked her to become a confidential informant, saying they would protect her and help her get out of jail, according to the lawsuit.

The officers, who worked undercover narcotics, then took her to a secluded location, where Valenzuela forced her to have sex in the back seat, the lawsuit said. He returned the drugs that had been confiscated from her, ordering her not to tell anyone about the rape because she would not be believed, according to the lawsuit.

Later that month, the lawsuit said, Nichols sexually assaulted her while giving her a ride home from court.

The two officers threatened to send her to jail or label her a snitch if she told on them, the lawsuit said.

“This has really just destroyed her,” Miller said. “She sees a police officer and is terrified.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the L.A. city attorney, did not comment on the settlement, pointing out that it is not yet final.

Miller represented two of the other women who sued the city alleging they were sexually assaulted by the two officers.

One woman received a $575,000 settlement, another $750,000 and a third $450,000.

Miller said the payout was probably higher in the latest settlement because the assaults were worse and because the officers had already been convicted in the criminal case.

Valenzuela and Nichols were charged in 2016 with sexually assaulting four victims in a three-year period beginning in 2008, targeting young women who were vulnerable because they had been arrested for drug crimes and feared prosecution.

Often, one partner served as a lookout while the other attacked a victim in the Jetta.

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The officers each pleaded no contest to two counts of forcible rape and two counts of forcible oral copulation last February, each receiving 25 years.

The plaintiff in the latest settlement was among three victims who testified at a preliminary hearing in November 2016.

On their way to jail, the officers stopped at a secluded alley, she said on the witness stand. Valenzuela said there was something she could do to avoid being locked up. She had sex with him in the back seat while Nichols stood guard outside.

“I was in a dark alleyway with a guy with a gun,” she testified. “I didn’t really feel like I had a choice.”

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