News Violence

Lawsuit: Oklahoma City Police Department Failed to Stop Daniel Holtzclaw

Kanya D’Almeida

The suit challenges the department's claim that it suspended Holtzclaw from the force as soon as it received sufficient evidence of his predatory behavior.

Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) officials characterized the department as a source of support for victims throughout the trial of former city police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was sentenced in January to 263 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting multiple Black women and one Black teenager.

But a civil lawsuit filed last week on behalf of seven of Holtzclaw’s accusers challenges the official police narrative, alleging that the OCPD’s indifference to an initial complaint lodged as far back as November 2013 paved the way for Holtzclaw’s subsequent wave of attacks on mostly low-income Black women while he patrolled predominantly Black neighborhoods in northeast Oklahoma City.

OCPD detectives played an outsized role in uncovering the full extent of Holtzclaw’s predatory behavior, even testifying in court on behalf of some of the 13 accusers. The department was quick to commend the jury for finding Holtzclaw guilty of 18 of the 36 charges against him last December. Judge Timothy Henderson is a former police officer who ultimately determined that Holtzclaw would serve the recommended 263-year prison term consecutively rather than concurrently—a demand of grassroots organizers who mobilized community support and media attention during the trial.

The suit, however, challenges the OCPD’s claim that it suspended Holtzclaw from the force as soon as it received sufficient evidence of his predatory behavior. The suit claims that the department dithered for more than a month after receiving a sexual assault complaint against the officer on May 11, 2014, eventually suspending him from the force only on June 18, 2014, following a report lodged by a day-care worker named Jannie Ligons.

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Defendants in the suit, which was filed last week and amended on Monday to include two additional plaintiffs, include the City of Oklahoma City, OCPD Chief Bill Citty, Holtzclaw’s supervisor Brian Bennett, and Rocky Gregory, an OCPD detective. The suit accuses the defendants of “conspiring to cover up” reports of sexual assault and neglecting to properly monitor, investigate, and reprimand a uniformed member of the police force.

All of the plaintiffs were part of last year’s criminal trial. Holtzclaw was found guilty on charges relating to four of them, and acquitted on charges relating to the other three.

At the heart of the complaint is an incident that allegedly happened on or around November 5, 2013, involving a Black woman whom the media has identified only by her initials, D.C. She was not part of the criminal trial against Holtzclaw last year, and her case brings the number of alleged victims up to 14.

D.C. claims she encountered Holtzclaw outside TJ’s Seafood Restaurant in northeast Oklahoma City on her way to purchase a fish dinner for her terminally ill daughter, who was receiving treatment at the Oklahoma University Medical Center Hospital. Holtzclaw intercepted D.C. on her way into the restaurant, slammed her head and face into a brick wall, and “pressed his crotch area into her backside while displaying an obvious erection that [D.C.] could feel,” according to the complaint.

He then allegedly handcuffed her, placed her in the backseat of his police car and drove her around the city. D.C. claims she urinated on herself in a desperate attempt to dissuade the officer from raping her. Eventually Holtzclaw took her, “handcuffed and urine soaked, back to TJ’s and released [her] without filing any charges.”

D.C. claims she returned to the hospital where her daughter was being treated and immediately sought medical attention for her own injuries, which included cuts and abrasions on her face.

Following a phone call by a nurse to the police department, Holtzclaw’s supervisor, Bennett, allegedly arrived at the hospital and recorded a statement in which D.C. “vividly” described the nature and location of the attack, as well as the name of the attacker. The suit claims Bennett promised to get back in touch, but that he never did.

The lawsuit claims that the report should have led to a thorough investigation of Holtzclaw’s GPS system and contact logs to determine whether or not he violated D.C.’s constitutional rights by “unlawfully detaining, arresting, and physically and sexually assaulting her.” Had the OCPD done so, the complaint states, “[None] of the subsequent 13 African-American females would have been assaulted by Holtzclaw.”

Instead, according to the suit, “Defendants … deliberately ignored and displayed a pattern, practice and custom of disregarding the … credible complaints against Holtzclaw.”

A spokesperson for the OCPD told the Associated Press that the victim never mentioned sexual assault in her report. “It was basically a use-of-force complaint,” Paco Balderrama told the AP, adding that the department found no wrongdoing on the officer’s part.

The complaint also cites an incident that took place around May 1, 2013, in which Holtzclaw allegedly attacked, beat and hog-tied a Black Oklahoma resident, eventually “causing his death” by obstructing his ability to breathe. The man’s death resulted in a tort claim notice that was pending throughout the period in which Holtzclaw allegedly assaulted 13 female residents.

Plaintiffs in the latest civil suit say the May 2013 incident should have warranted Holtzclaw’s removal from the streets, or at least closer monitoring of his movements—neither of which happened.

Finally, the complaint cites the August 2014 affidavit of OCPD Detective Kim Davis, who stated that she opened an investigation on Holtzclaw in the department’s sex crimes division on May 8, 2014. The lawsuit challenges the police department’s negligence in allowing Holtzclaw to remain on the streets for an additional seven weeks during this investigation, before officially suspending him from the force in June 2014. During this period, the lawsuit claims he victimized “an additional five African-American females.”

Each plaintiff is seeking more than $75,000 in damages resulting from physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional distress. The suit requests a court order that would force the police department to its train officers on how to receive, report, and investigate sexual assault, a demand that grassroots organizers have made.

Ligons, according to KFOR, said she felt “betrayed” by a police force that failed to take action against Holtzclaw. “This could have been prevented if they would have done their job when it happened to the first lady,” the grandmother said.

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