LAPD officers who took advantage of their power imbalance to commit sexual assaults fit national trends, says prominent criminologist
Criminologist Philip Stinson has spent more than a decade studying bad cops and oversees a national database that often explains exactly how they came to violate their sworn duty.
Often, Stinson says, the power imbalance between a police officer and the civilians they encounter leads some astray.
Police officers regularly come in contact with vulnerable people who are “subject to the power and coercive authority granted to police,” said the criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who is a nationally recognized expert on police behavior and misconduct.
Prominent among such criminal activity are sex-related crimes, he says. TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MOREAerial photos show Avengers Campus construction asMarvel land takes shape at Disney California Adventure
“There’s a lot of power and control that comes with the gun and the badge in terms of being able to coerce people, specifically women and girls,” said Stinson, himself a former police officer in Virginia and New Hampshire.
Additionally, circumstances related to police work make it conducive to committing sex-related crimes.
Many police officers, Stinson says, are free from direct supervision while they are on patrol and sometimes work alone. Also, many police interactions occur late at night outside public view.
Los Angeles is typical of statewide trends for officers convicted of crimes.
New data obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, and analyzed over six months in partnership with the Southern California News Group and other news outlets across the state, reveals that 21 Los Angeles police officers were convicted of crimes committed from 2007 to 2017.
About half of those convictions were for felony sex crimes, domestic violence or other assaults, according to an analysis of the data. Many of them were crimes of opportunity, in which the officers took advantage of their power over vulnerable victims.
Officer ‘groomed’ 15-year-old cadet
One such sexual abuse case that grabbed headlines in 2017 involved an officer in South Los Angeles who was a supervisor of the LAPD cadet program.
For several months, Officer Robert Cain was gaining the trust of a teenager in the program, sending her gifts, and letting her drive his car and sit at his desk, according to a civil lawsuit filed against the city in 2018.
The 15-year-old girl, who was not identified in the suit, was enrolled in the cadet program at the 77th Division from January to June 2017, according to court documents. Cain, a 10-year veteran of the department who was 31 at the time, was a supervisor and mentor of the girl.
On June 14, 2017, Cain invited her to Six Flags Magic Mountain as a reward for participation in the program. There, he sexually assaulted her in the parking lot, according to the girl’s lawsuit.
Attorney Luis Carrillo, who represented the victim, said Cain was gaining the victim’s trust for months before he assaulted her.
“Grooming takes different forms, such as being nice, letting her sit at the desk, bringing her to his car,” Carrillo said. “Things like that break barriers for the child who is 15 or 16 years old.”
Cain was assigned to “supervise, train and advise” the victim. Instead, he “used his position to groom and sexually molest and sexually abuse” her, the lawsuit claims.
Details of the assault were discovered after the LAPD began investigating the theft of police cruisers, ballistic vests and other equipment from the 77th Street Division. The girl was one of seven cadets arrested in connection with the thefts. During the probe, police detectives discovered text messages between the girl and Cain revealing the details of their unlawful sexual contact.
Then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck personally arrested Cain in 2017. The officer was later charged with oral copulation of a person under 16 and unlawful sexual intercourse.
The victim’s lawsuit said the department and city “failed to take reasonable steps and implement reasonable safeguards to avoid and/or prevent the unlawful sexual conduct” by Cain.
His attorney did not return multiple requests for comment.
In the days following Cain’s arrest, investigators seized more than 100 firearms, including assault rifles and inert grenades, when they searched his home in Rancho Cucamonga, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Cain resigned from the Police Department following his arrest. In August 2018, he entered a no contest plea to two felony sexual abuse charges in exchange for a two-year prison sentence. The judge also ordered him to register as a sex offender and stay away from the victim for 10 years.
Lewd act with a 5-year-old
Another LAPD officer, Miguel Angel Schiappapietra Jr., also was sentenced to prison for a disturbing case involving the child of a neighbor in Castaic.
Schiappapietra had developed a friendship with his new neighbor after moving to the community in the far reaches of northern L.A. County. Both were fathers of young children.
But a month after they met, Schiappapietra invited his neighbor’s daughters — 5 and 8 years old — from their yard into his bedroom and exposed himself to them. Then Schiappapietra asked the 5-year-old to touch him. And she did as the 8-year-old left the room.
Schiappapietra, a six-year veteran of the LAPD, was charged in 2013 with felony lewd act upon a child and attempted lewd act upon a child.
“It will be the responsibility of the prosecution to overcome the overwhelming evidence of Mr. Schiappapietra’s strong community and family ties, lack of any criminal history, and an overall history of success and superior citizenship,” Schiappapietra’s attorney, David Diamond, wrote in a motion to reduce the officer’s $200,000 bail at the time.
However, Schiappapietra resigned from the LAPD, eventually pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to three years in state prison. He also must register as a sex offender.
Officers Luis Valenzuela and James C. Nichols entered the pleas to counts of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation; they were sentenced to 25 years in prison http://on.ktla.com/IwerQ 2 LAPD Officers Plead No Contest to Sexually Assaulting Multiple Women While on DutyTwo Los Angeles police officers pleaded no contest Monday to sexually assaulting multiple women, a pattern of predation in which one partner often served as the lookout while the other carried out an…ktla.com281:39 PM – Feb 26, 2018Twitter Ads info and privacy27 people are talking about this
Narcotics officers prey on informants
The LAPD case that most illustrates Stinson’s warnings involved two undercover narcotics officers who preyed on informants who were abusing drugs.
Officers Luis Valenzuela and James C. Nichols were arrested in February 2016 and charged with more than a dozen felony counts for sexually assaulting four women under color of authority during a period from 2008 to 2011.
Valenzuela and Nichols pleaded no contest to charges of forcible rape and forcible oral copulation. Both men were handed 25-year state prison terms and ordered to register as sex offenders.
One of the victims, identified in court proceedings as Jane Doe No. 1, was picked up by the officers in the Echo Park area and driven to a McDonald’s parking lot near Temple and Alvarado streets in December 2008.
Valenzuela stepped out of the car and Nichols stayed behind with the woman, ordering her to perform oral sex.
According to a preliminary hearing transcript, the woman — who was in her 20s and had served as an informant for the officers — said she followed the Nichols’ orders because she was “scared” and felt she “would get in trouble” or be arrested if she didn’t cooperate.
After Valenzuela returned to the car, the officers drove the woman to her home and gave her $40.
County prosecutors said in court that the two officers threatened their victims, saying they would be sent to jail if they didn’t have sex with them.
Attorneys who represented the two officers in court did not return multiple requests for comment.
Dennis Chang, an attorney who represented two of the victims, said the power the two officers had over the women was “enormous.”
“They would say, ‘You haven’t given us enough,’ ” Chang said. “ ‘I need more arrests. I need more sex. I need more blowjobs. You need to do this and you need to do that. If you don’t, you’re going back to jail.’ ”
On one occasion, the officers threatened a victim that they would spread the word she was a “snitch” if she told anybody about the sexual assaults, according to a civil lawsuit filed in 2016.
Stinson points out that police officers who commit crimes obviously is not the norm in law enforcement. But there are officers who commit sexual misconduct and believe they can get away with it, he said.
“Because they can. Because they don’t think they’ll get caught. Law enforcement is generally exempt from law enforcement. Police officers don’t typically like to arrest other police officers.”
This story is part of a collaboration of news organizations throughout California coordinated by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and the Bay Area News Group. Reporters participated from more than 30 newsrooms, including MediaNews Group, McClatchy, USA Today Network, Voice of San Diego, and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Click here to read more about the project. Email us at email@example.com.
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