It seems like Oklahoma women have a lot more to fear than a traffic ticket when they see flashing lights in the rearview mirror. In just over a month, three law enforcement officers have been arrested and charged with on-duty rapes and sexual assaults. The suspects in these cases are all from separate branches of law enforcement, and are in different locations around the state: an Oklahoma City Police officer, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper patrolling in Creek County, and a Tulsa County Sheriff's deputy.
In each case, the officer is accused of raping or sexually assaulting multiple women during traffic stops or after otherwise detaining them for questioning. The officers were uniformed and on-duty, and they are accused of using their positions as law officers to threaten and intimidate women into compliance.
The first to be arrested was Daniel Holtzclaw, 27, a former Oklahoma City police officer working in the Springlake division, which patrols portions of northeast and northwest Oklahoma City, including the Adventure District. Holtzclaw was arrested on August 21, and has since been charged with 26 felony counts, including first degree rape, second degree rape by instrumentation, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, procuring indecent exhibitions, indecent exposure,stalking, and burglary.
Prosecutors say Holtzclaw, whose shift was from 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., would stop women late at night and force them to expose themselves or to perform sex acts. They say he targeted prostitutes and drug users because they would not be likely to report him out of fear. However, prosecutors say, the sexual assaults began to escalate in severity, eventually becoming rape. When the suspect assaulted a woman who was not involved in criminal activity, she reported the officer. Her report launched the investigation that led to Holtzclaw's arrest. Police believe he victimized at least ten women. They allege that he assaulted one woman who was handcuffed to a hospital bed.
Roughly two weeks after Holtzclaw was charged, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol arrested one of its own. Trooper Eric Roberts had been under suspension since mid-July, when a woman reported that he stopped her vehicle, made her get into his patrol vehicle, and then drove her to a secluded location where he raped her. When the woman felt that the OHP wasn't taking her claim seriously, she filed a lawsuit against Roberts. When the allegations in the lawsuit were made public, other women came forward saying that they, too, had been sexually assaulted by the trooper. Roberts was arrested on kidnapping and sexual assault complaints.
A day after the OHP trooper's arrest, a Tulsa County Sheriff's deputy was arrested on complaints of sexual battery. Two women say Gerald Nuckolls, 26, arrived at a residence saying he was there to investigate a 9-1-1 hangup call. He then said he needed to search the home for drugs, separating the two women. Each says that when she was alone with the deputy, he sexually assaulted her. One victim reported that he asked her inappropriate questions, pulled down her dress to expose her chest, and exposed himself to her. The other says that the deputy exposed himself to her and said that if she touched his genitals, he wouldn't take her boyfriend to jail. Nuckolls allegedly told investigators that "sexual-type activity" has occurred with at least six women during traffic stops or calls. He is charged with four counts, including two counts of sexual battery and one each of indecent exposure and outraging public decency.
Public decency is indeed outraged with the arrests of three law officers in less than a month, each accused of sexually assaulting women while on duty. Rather than protecting the public safety, these men are accused of preying on women and using their badges as weapons, rather than shields.
Oklahoma isn't the only state which has had problems with this issue:
- Last November, a San Antonio police officer was accused of handcuffing, groping, and raping a 19-year-old woman during a traffic stop.
- In March, a Maryland Transit Administration police officer was accused of raping a woman after he took her home following a bus accident.
- Also in March, a San Jose police officer was arrested after an investigation into an incident following a domestic disturbance call. A woman who had been arguing with her husband said she didn't want to remain in the home. A responding officer allegedly took her to a hotel, waited in the parking lot for another officer to leave, and then returned to the woman's hotel room to rape her.
Still, that's three incidents in three separate states over the course of year. Oklahoma has had three case in a month. What is going on?
It is a sad state of affairs when people cannot trust law enforcement to keep them safe, but have to question whether those sworn to protect them are the ones intending to harm them.
In the past, women have been cautioned to protect themselves from individuals who may be impersonating officers in late night traffic stops. Now, they have to think about protecting themselves from actual on-duty officers. Calling police to see if the squad car in the rear view mirror is legitimate is a good idea to avoid stopping for an assailant posing as an officer, but it can also serve as documentation in case an unethical law officer switches off his dash cam. It's probably in the best interest of drivers to think about how to protect themselves, especially when Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain George Brown's advice for avoiding rape by an on-duty officer is to "do your part and do what it takes to obey the traffic laws, not get stopped.'
Listen, Capt. Brown: No means no, and a broken tail light does not mean yes.