Officer’s convictions are a rare triumph for rape victims

MATT SEDENSKY and SEAN MURPHY | 12/21/2015, 10:43 a.m.
The rape convictions that could put a fired Oklahoma City police officer behind bars for life are vindication for some ...
Attorney Benjamin Crump, center, holds up the arms of two of the accusers in the trial of Daniel Holtzclaw, Jannie Ligons, second from left, and Shardayreon Hill, second from right, during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Friday. Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer, was convicted on 18 of 36 counts of sexual misconduct involving 13 women. Crump said he will represent the women in civil suits against the city. Sue Ogrocki

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The rape convictions that could put a fired Oklahoma City police officer behind bars for life are vindication for some of the women he targeted, and also a reminder of how difficult it is to achieve justice in such cases.

Most victims never report sexual assaults, and those who accused ex-officer Daniel Holtzclaw were even more vulnerable as poor Black women, many with checkered histories of crime and addiction.

A grandmother’s bravery in telling her story made all the difference this time. After Holtzclaw pulled her over, forced her to expose herself and perform oral sex, she filed a complaint that triggered a search for other victims.

In this case at least, it changed a narrative all too common in sex crimes: The jury found him guilty of rape.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” the grandmother said Friday, showing her face on camera and revealing her name as Jannie Ligons, a daycare worker in her 50s. “So all I can say is, I was innocent and he just picked the wrong lady to stop that night.”

Holtzclaw was found guilty of sex crimes against eight women, and acquitted of charges involving five others he encountered on night patrol. Jurors recommended 263 years, including 30-year sentences for each of four first-degree rape convictions.

Holtzclaw trembled and sobbed as his verdict was read Thursday night, on his 29th birthday. His emotional outburst prompted jail authorities to keep him on a 24-hour watch.

Though prosecutors assembled a damning case with GPS pinpoints, records of computer background checks and other evidence, some worried the all-White jury might doubt the testimony of his victims, all of whom are Black. Holtzclaw is half-White, half-Japanese.

“It shows that there is a hope for our country, there is hope for society and there is hope for all our sisters, mothers, wives, daughters, who are victims of rape, no matter what race they are, what ethnicity they are, what social-economic class and status they’re in,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer who plans to sue the city on behalf of some of the women.

Crump was flanked by Ligons and Shardayreon Hill, who testified that Holtzclaw assaulted her while she was handcuffed to a hospital bed.

The Associated Press does not identify victims of sex crimes without their consent, but these two women spoke publicly and agreed to be identified.

The verdict left the Rev. Al Sharpton “somewhere between jumping and shouting ‘Hallelujah’ and feeling aggrieved for the women.”

“If an all-White jury in Oklahoma City would convict a policeman of this amount of grievances, of charges, then it gives us hope that our marching and continued organizing is not in vain,” Sharpton said.

Oklahoma’s African American community isn’t completely satisfied. The jury did not convict on Hill’s allegations, and her father, Tyral Muhammad, said Holtzclaw’s supervisors and others should have caught him sooner.

“We are not being rocked to sleep because of this verdict,” Muhammad said. “We want more Black officers patrolling the northeast side of town.”