LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two Los Angeles police officers pleaded not guilty Thursday to repeatedly raping four women over a three-year period, while the men's attorneys questioned the credibility of their accusers.
James Nichols, 44, and Luis Valenzuela, 43, pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, including rape under color of authority and oral copulation by force. Valenzuela also is charged with pointing a gun at one of the women.
Prosecutors say most of the alleged assaults occurred while the officers were on duty.
The veteran officers were being held on bails of more than $3.5 million. They could face life in prison if convicted.
Robert Rico, the attorney representing Nichols, said his client has maintained his innocence since the allegations first emerged nearly seven years ago.
"He's not guilty of each and every one of these counts, and he is shocked that after almost seven years the (district attorney's) office has decided to file charges," Rico said. "I think it reflects on the fact that the evidence is incredibly weak and all the alleged victims have credibility issues."
Valenzuela's attorney, Bill Seki, said his client is adamant about his innocence and that no sex between him and the four women occurred, consensual or otherwise.
He also questioned the credibility of one of the accusers and said the timing of the charges was shocking, considering the allegations first came to light back in 2010 and the officers were suspended without pay three years ago.
"It's mind-blowing that it happened right now," Seki said.
Seki also criticized Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck for grand-standing about the case.
On Wednesday, Beck discussed the case at a news conference, saying Valenzuela and Nichols violated the public's trust. "These two officers have disgraced themselves, they disgraced this badge, they disgraced their oaths of office," he said.
Asked why it took so long for the charges to be filed against the officers, Beck said the investigation was complicated and involved reluctant witnesses who were difficult to find.
Prosecutors said the alleged rapes began in December 2008 after Nichols and Valenzuela became partners in the department's Hollywood Division, working as narcotics investigators.
Prosecutors say all four women assaulted had been arrested on drug-related charges at various times by the officers, and court records show at least two had been recruited by the officers to work as drug informants.
Those women have filed civil rights lawsuits against the officers. The Los Angeles City Council settled one case last year after agreeing to pay one woman $575,000, while the other case is still being litigated.
A third lawsuit is expected to be filed.
In one of the lawsuits, a 19-year-old woman working as a drug informant said Nichols acted as a lookout in the front seat of a departmental car while she was forced to perform oral sex on Valenzuela in the back seat after he told her, "You have to do what the police tell you to do."
Another woman said both officers each forced her to have sex with them twice after threatening her with jail time.
In a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement, The Associated Press 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.
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. And even among states that provided records, some reported no officers removed for sexual misdeeds even though cases were identified via news stories or court records.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amanda-lee-myers.