Two Los Angeles police officers have been under internal affairs investigation for "criminal sexual misconduct" since 2010, LAPD acknowledged Friday.
The allegations came to light Thursday with the filing of a civil lawsuit against narcotics officers Bill Nichols and Luis Valenzuela, who had worked together in Hollywood division. The plaintiff, a woman in her 30's, alleges she was recruited to serve as an informant, then coerced into having sexual relations with the officers, according to the filing.
"She was afraid she would go back to jail if she didn't give these guys what they wanted," said Dennis Chang, the woman's attorney. As a matter of policy, NBCLA does not report the names of alleged sex crime victims.
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The internal affairs investigation had remained confidential until the lawsuit became public record. A search warrant obtained by the Los Angeles Times , revealed the department was aware of three other women with similar complaints against the two officers.
The officers had been separated and re-assigned to other stations some time ago, and continued working even as the investigation continued. Internal Affairs had planned an operation next week, according to the Times, but that was precluded by the revelation of the lawsuit.
The two suspect officers have now been assigned to home duty, according to LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.
Police Chief Charlie Beck emphasized that the matter was still under investigation, but said he was "saddened by the allegations."
"If they are true, it would be horrific," the chief said in a statement released by Commander Smith.
"This investigation has been lengthy and challenging to complete because of the difficulty in locating the witnesses, and the fact the alleged incidents took place several years ago," Smith said.
Speaking on NBC4's News Conference, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he, Chief Beck and the LAPD as a whole take the allegations "very seriously."
Chang's client was facing criminal charges in 2009 when Officer Nichols said he could arrange for the case to be dropped if she agreed to serve as an informant. She did so, but that working relationship changed within a few months, Chang said..
"It got to the point where these detectives were demanding sex from her, theoretically under the threat of putting her back into jail," Chang said. "Telling her you haven't given me enough, what are you going to do about it, what else can you give me, you promised me this many people, you promised me this many arrests."
In April of 2011, Chang's client was arrested by another police agency. She pleaded no contest to drug and identity theft counts, and remains jailed serving her sentence.
Chang revealed that she did not tell him of her complaints against the officers until only recently, after she had been interviewed by internal affairs. Chang put together the civil suit quickly because the statute of limitations would have run out next week, he said.
"I know [she] is going to feel much better knowing that other similarly situated women have now come forward, and it certainly makes [her] much more credible," Chang said.
The first woman to come forward in 2010 had also served as an informant for the officers. According to the affidavit quoted by the Times, she told a narcotics division supervisor that the pair had appeared in a Volkswagen Jetta wearing plain clothes, telling her they'd take her to jail unless she got in the car. She said one of the officers got into the back seat, exposed himself and told her to touch him.
The detective assigned to the case could not find the woman, and the case was dropped until a year later when another woman came forward with a similar story after being arrested.
Chang's client also referred to the Jetta.
The officers could not be reached for comment.
NBC4's Janet Kwak contributed to this report.