OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A “serial rapist with a badge” who faces many years in prison for raping black women on his police beat was caught because of the courage of a grandmother who refused to remain silent after he sexually assaulted her, her lawyer said Friday.
“He just picked the wrong lady to stop that night,” said Jannie Ligons, whose complaint triggered the investigation that led to charges Daniel Holtzclaw victimized 13 women as an Oklahoma City Police officer. “I wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again, no way no how.”
Holtzclaw’s conviction on charges including rape and sexual battery should send a strong message nationwide, said attorney Benjamin Crump, who plans to sue the city for civil damages.
“Black women’s lives matter. It mattered just as if this were a group of 13 white women,” Crump said.
Holtzclaw was found guilty on his 29th birthday Thursday of 18 counts involving eight of the women. He was acquitted of charges involving five other women he encountered while on night patrol. Jurors recommended 263 years, including 30-year sentences for each of four first-degree rape convictions.
Ligons, a daycare worker in her 50s who was pulled over while driving home from a night with friends, said she knew she had done nothing wrong when Holtzclaw assaulted her.
“He did things to me that I didn’t think a police officer would do,” said Ligons, flanked by her family and African-American activists outside the courthouse. “I was out there alone and helpless, didn’t know what to do.”
Investigators found other victims through records of the background checks Holtzclaw had requested, corroborated their claims through the GPS locator in his squad car. He was fired and then jailed as other victims emerged.
Holtzclaw’s case was examined as part of a yearlong Associated Press investigation that revealed about 1,000 officers nationwide had lost their licenses for sex crimes or other sexual misconduct over a six-year period.
The AP’s finding is undoubtedly an undercount, since not every state has a process for banning problem officers from re-entering law enforcement, and states that do vary greatly in how they report and prosecute wrongdoers.
One factor stands out, however: Victims tend to be among society’s most vulnerable — juveniles, drug addicts, and women in custody or with a criminal history.
Questions of race surrounded the trial. Holtzclaw is half-white, half-Japanese. All his accusers are black. The case was heard by an all-white jury. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he had sought a “good cross-section of our community,” but defense attorneys had eliminated every potential black juror.
Prater said he hopes people will see that his office and local law enforcement will stand up for any one, no matter their race or background. Activists outside the courthouse on Friday said they will closely watch Holtzclaw’s sentencing to make sure.
The youngest victim, a 17-year-old girl, was the last to testify. She said Holtzclaw picked her up as she walked home one night in June 2014, and then walked her to the porch, where he told her he had to search her. She said he grabbed her breasts, then pulled down her pink shorts and raped her. Her DNA was found on his uniform trousers.
The jury convicted Holtzclaw of first-degree rape, second-degree rape and sexual battery in the girl’s case.
The AP does not identify victims of sex crimes without their consent and is not using the mother’s name, but is using Ligon’s name because she spoke publicly.
Defense attorney Scott Adams, who declined to comment, sought to use the criminal backgrounds of some of the victims to cast doubt on their testimony. He questioned several women at length about whether they were high at the time, and noted that most didn’t come forward until investigators identified them.
Ultimately, the strategy failed.
One woman even testified in orange scrubs and handcuffs, because she had been jailed on drug charges hours before appearing in court, but the jury still convicted Holtzclaw of forcible oral sodomy in her case. That woman said he followed her into her bedroom and raped her, telling her, “This is better than county jail.”
Holtzclaw, a college football star who joined law enforcement after a brief attempt at pursuing an NFL career, rocked back and forth, sobbing in his chair, as the verdicts were read. Citing the emotional outburst, authorities put him under a 24-hour watch in jail.
The AP’s “Betrayed by the Badge” series:
AP: Hundreds of officers lose licenses over sex misconduct: http://apne.ws/1J0bVlI
AP: Officer sex cases plagued by lax supervision, policies: http://apne.ws/1SSnNf4
AP: Broken system lets problem officers jump from job to job: http://apne.ws/1QARkuu
AP investigation into officer sex misconduct, by the numbers: http://apne.ws/1J0c6gU
A look inside AP’s investigation on officer sex misconduct: http://apne.ws/1lB6J2L
Contributors include Nomaan Merchant in Dallas; Matt Sedensky in West Palm Beach, Florida; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City.
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