An Oklahoma City jury convicted a former police officer of sexually assaulting several women while on duty.
Minutes after 29-year-old Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty, the mother of his youngest accuser said she hoped the case would show that the problem of police sexual misconduct wasn’t limited to one officer or one department.
“It’s a problem for the nation,”
she told The Associated Press.
Holtzclaw was convicted Thursday night of preying on women he met on his police beat in a minority, low-income neighborhood. He could spend the rest of his life in prison based on the jury’s recommendation that he serve a total of 263 years, including a 30-year sentence on each of four first-degree rape convictions.
In total, the jury convicted Holtzclaw of 18 counts connected to eight of the 13 women, all of whom were black, who testified against him. Jurors acquitted him on 18 other counts. He sobbed as the verdict was read aloud.
His case brought new attention to the problem of sexual misconduct committed by law enforcement officers, something police chiefs have studied for years.
Holtzclaw’s case was among those examined in an Associated Press investigation of sexual misconduct by law enforcement. The AP’s yearlong probe revealed about 1,000 officers had lost their licenses for sex crimes or other sexual misconduct over a six-year period.
The AP’s finding is undoubtedly an undercount of the problem. Not every state has a process for banning problem officers from re-entering law enforcement. And of those states that do, great variations exist in whether officers are prosecuted or reported to their state licensing boards.
A common thread among cases of police sexual misconduct was they involved victims who were among society’s most vulnerable: juveniles, drug addicts, and women in custody or with a criminal history.
That’s exactly who authorities accused Holtzclaw of targeting.
After receiving a report from a grandmother who said Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex during a traffic stop, police identified a dozen other women who said Holtzclaw had victimized them.
The youngest was a 17-year-old girl. She was the last to testify at Holtzclaw’s trial.
The girl recalled Holtzclaw pulling up in his police car as she walked home one night in June 2014. Holtzclaw drove her to her family’s home and 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.
She testified that he asked if it was the first time she had ever had sex with a cop.
Her DNA was found on his uniform trousers. Holtzclaw’s attorney, Scott Adams, argued that DNA could not definitely be established as coming from vaginal fluid.
Adams asked the girl during the trial about perceived inconsistencies in her testimony as well as her use of drugs. She pushed back at one point, telling him, “I’m really getting upset by the way you’re coming after me.”
The jury convicted Holtzclaw of first-degree rape, second-degree rape and sexual battery in the girl’s case.
Her mother said her daughter didn’t want to talk about the case anymore, but that she was relieved about the conclusion of a “long journey to justice.”
“I feel like justice has been served today,” she said. “It is a comfort to us all.”
The AP generally does not identify victims of sex crimes and is not using the mother’s name so as not to identify her daughter.
Several of Holtzclaw’s accusers had been arrested or convicted of crimes, and his attorney made those issues a cornerstone of his defense strategy. Adams questioned several women at length about whether they were high when they allegedly encountered Holtzclaw. He also pointed out that most did not come forward until police identified them as possible victims after launching their investigation.
Ultimately, that approach did not sway the jury to dismiss all the women’s stories.
Holtzclaw was convicted of one of two charges related to a woman who testified he gave her a ride home, then followed her into her bedroom where he forced himself on her and raped her, telling her, “This is better than county jail.”
That woman 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.
Adams declined to comment after the verdict was read.
Holtzclaw, who turned 29 on Thursday, was a former college football star who joined law enforcement after a brief attempt at pursuing an NFL career. He was fired before the trial began.
His father — a police officer in Enid, about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City — his mother and sister were in the courtroom as the verdict was read. At least one accuser was present, as well as several black community leaders.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said after the verdict that Holtzclaw’s attorneys were responsible for ensuring there was an all-white jury considering the case. Some supporters of the women questioned whether the jury would fairly judge their allegations. Holtzclaw is half-white, half-Japanese.
Prater said he wanted a jury that was a “good cross-section of our community,” but defense attorneys eliminated every potential black juror during the selection process.
He added that he hoped the case showed that his office and local law enforcement will stand up for any one, no matter their race or background.
“I don’t care what they look like, where they go to church, what god they worship, or how much money they make,” he said. “We stand up for people in this community.”