Two veteran Los Angeles police officers pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of sexually assaulting four women, mostly while on duty.
James Christopher Nichols, 44, and Luis Gustavo Valenzuela, 43, who worked as partners in the LAPD's Hollywood Division, are due back in court March 16, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for them to stand trial.
Nichols, a 15-year LAPD veteran, is charged with five counts each of forcible rape and rape by threat to arrest or deport and one count each of forcible oral copulation, oral copulation under color of authority, attempted forcible oral copulation, attempted oral copulation under color of authority and sexual battery.
He was arrested about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday by detectives from the department's Robbery Homicide division and was being held in lieu of $3.835 million in bail, according to L.A. County jail records.
Valenzuela, who has been with the department for 18 years, is charged with three counts each of forcible rape and rape by threat to arrest or deport and one count each of forcible oral copulation, oral copulation under color of authority, attempted forcible oral copulation, attempted oral copulation under color of authority, assault with a firearm and sexual battery.
He was arrested at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday, also by Robbery Homicide detectives, and was being held in lieu of $3.765 million in bail. The charges stem from a series of alleged attacks on four women between 19 and 34 years old beginning in December 2008, after the two officers became partners, and continuing through March 2011 at various locations, including in their police vehicle, according to prosecutors.
All four of the women were arrested at various times by the officers in connection with narcotics-related offenses, and most of the alleged assaults occurred while the officers were on duty, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Nichols and Valenzuela could face up to life in state prison if convicted of the charges. According to the LAPD, both officers have been "relieved from duty" without pay but are still with the department.
"I will say again, any officer that abuses the public's trust is not welcome in the LAPD and we will continue vigorously investigating officers accused of alleged crimes and cooperate fully with the District Attorney's Office," Chief Charlie Beck said.
Beck, speaking to reporters at a late-afternoon news conference on Wednesday, said the officers "disrespected themselves, their badges" and their oath of office.