With Oklahoma officer sentenced to life, victims can finally start to heal

As former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holzclaw learns he will spend the rest of his life in prison, his victims tell of the life-long impacts of his actions.

Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman/AP
Jannie Ligons (c.) a victim of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, speaks to members of the media at the Oklahoma County Courthouse after his sentencing, Thursday, in Oklahoma City. Mr. Holtzclaw, convicted of raping and sexually victimizing eight women on his beat, was sentenced Thursday to 263 years in prison.

A former Oklahoma police officer who preyed on victims over a six-month period will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Daniel Holtzclaw, a former patrolman, was sentenced by an Oklahoma judge on Thursday to 263 years in prison.

The case had racial overtones, as all of the victims Mr. Holtzclaw pursued were black women. According to the prosecution, he identified potential targets in Oklahoma City’s poorest neighborhoods according to their criminal history. He assumed that their backgrounds meant that they would stay silent.

But several victims did choose to come forward, and their statements about how being attacked by a police officer changed their lives and their perceptions of the police likely played a significant part in the length of Hotzclaw's sentence.

One victim, a teenager told the court that she no longer is sure of how to respond to law enforcement.

"Every time I see the police, I don't even know what to do," she said at Holtzclaw's sentencing hearing. "I don't ever go outside, and when I do I'm terrified."

Another victim, a grandmother whose initial report sparked the investigation that ultimately exposed Hotzclaw's pattern of assault, said that the incident had a profound impact on her life.

"I so desperately want my life back," Jannie Ligons said.

The case drew public attention from civil-rights activists, including the Black Lives Matter movement. When the trial began in November of 2015, one victim testified that she didn’t think her story would be believed because “I’m a black female,” and so she didn’t reach out to police until Holtzclaw had been charged.

In December, the jury convicted Holtzclaw on 18 counts, including four counts of first-degree rape, but acquitted him on 18 other counts. Holtzclaw has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and his lawyer says he intends to appeal the verdict.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, praised the ruling. He spoke on behalf of the victims, saying, "All the women were victims, from the 17-year old teenager to the 57-year old grandmother. This is a statement for 400 years of racism, oppression and sexual assault of black women; a statement of victory not only for the 'OKC 13,' but for so many unknown women.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Holtzclaw was not a law officer who committed crimes, but rather "a rapist who masqueraded as a law enforcement officer,” the Associated Press reports.

An examination by AP last year discovered that approximately 1,000 police officers in the US have lost their licenses either for sex crimes or sexual misconduct within the past six years, a figure that may be an undercount.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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