An Oklahoma City jury on Thursday convicted a former police officer of raping and sexually assaulting multiple women.
Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty of 18 counts of varying charges including sexual battery, rape, and forcible oral sodomy. The former police officer was convicted of assaulting women he encountered while on duty in a minority, low-income neighborhood.
The case and conviction breathes fresh life into an issue that permeates policing across the United States. Advocates hope that the conviction will encourage other women who have been subject to similar abuses in other communities to come forward and seek justice. Many of the victims in this case did not come forward until they were approached by officers investigating other complaints.
"It's a problem for the nation," the mother of his youngest victim told the Associated Press.
A yearlong investigation conducted by the AP suggests that Mr. Holtzclaw is just one of about 1,000 officers who had lost their jobs as a result of sex crimes or misconduct over a six-year period. The victims in these cases were similar to Holtzclaw's – juveniles, drug addicts, and women with criminal histories.
Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 counts and acquitted of 18 others. Sentencing for the convictions could see the former police officer spend the rest of his life in jail.
The women assaulted by Holtzclaw were all linked by their potential vulnerability to abuse by police officers and mirrored trends identified in the AP investigation. In total, 13 women testified against him, all of whom were black.
The women who testified varied in age. Authorities began investigating Holtzclaw after a grandmother reported him for forcing her to preform oral sex during a traffic stop. The youngest was a 17 year old who said Holtzclaw found her walking home, drove her back, and raped her on her front porch.
Holtzclaw's defense attorney asked her about inconsistencies in her testimony and her use of drugs. Her DNA was found on his uniform trousers.
Another woman who testified against Holtzclaw did so in orange jail scrubs, having been arrested on drug charges hours before court.
The thirteen women testified in front of a jury that had some concerned. The all-white jury contrasted in demography from the 13 black victims who testified. While Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater wanted a jury of a “good cross-section of our community,” defense attorneys sent home every potential black juror.
Ultimately, the past of the victims and the demographic of the jury did not stop a guilty verdict.
For the 17-year-old girl, who was the last to testify, the convictions come as a relief.
"I feel like justice has been served today," the mother of the 17-year-old said to the AP. "It is a comfort to us all."
“There was liberation and there was vindication,” T. Sheri Dickerson, an associate minister at Expressions Community Church who supported the officer’s victims, said in a phone interview with Reuters. “A lot of people were literally able to inhale and breathe for the first time since this all started,” she added.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.