Daniel Holtzclaw, the former Oklahoma City cop charged with sexually assaulting 13 Black women, was back in the courtroom Tuesday, as a second woman took the stand before an all-white jury to testify against the accused.
The trial began on November 2 at the Oklahoma County Courthouse and resumed on Tuesday with dozens of people packing the benches.
Holtzclaw was dismissed from the Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) in January following an initial complaint in June 2014 by a 50-year-old daycare worker who said the officer pulled her over in a routine traffic stop, but then proceeded to pat her down and force her to perform oral sex on him in the squad car while keeping his gun in plain sight.
In August last year, the officer, then 27, was officially arrested on 16 charges, including rape, forced oral sodomy, sexual battery, and indecent exposure, according to a statement posted to the OCPD’s official Facebook page.
These charges later increased to 36, including stalking and one count of burglary, as at least a dozen other women came forward with similar allegations. Many have now testified, and some have agreed to take the stand in a trial that could carry on for weeks.
Patricia Santos, a reporter with the Oklahoma City television channel KOCO 5 News who covered the opening days of the trial last week, said defense attorney Scott Adams kicked off the proceedings by “aggressively questioning the first victim about her suspended license and alleged marijuana use,” before delving into the criminal histories of family members testifying on her behalf.
Live-tweeting the event from inside the courthouse Tuesday, Santos reported a similar pattern of cross-examination, with Adams calling into question the integrity of the second witness by claiming she did not confess to having PCP on her person during an initial arrest that landed her in the hospital.
The woman claims Holtzclaw coerced her into performing oral sex on him while she was shackled to a hospital bed rail in police custody in December 2013, the Associated Press reported this month.
Santos said the witness testified in court Tuesday that Holtzclaw promised to make a pending drug charge against her “go away” if she “cooperated with him.” She claims he proceeded to watch nurses undress and bathe her, and later groped and penetrated her under her hospital gown.
Both this witness’ testimony and the nature of the defense’s cross-examination go to the heart of a case in which the cop is alleged to have systematically assaulted primarily low-income Black women on his 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. beat in a patrol area north and east of the Oklahoma state capital.
Detectives who investigated the case suggest he specifically targeted drug users, sex workers, or otherwise marginalized women who might have been living in fear of becoming enmeshed in the criminal justice system—in all but one of the cases, the AP report said, police department records show that Holtzclaw called in to check on criminal backgrounds or outstanding warrants of the woman he is later alleged to have violated.
Some of the women say they were asked to remove their pants or lift up their shirts, ostensibly so he could “search” them for suspected drug possession.
The youngest accuser in the case, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, testified that Holtzclaw followed her onto her front porch while he reminded her of an outstanding warrant for trespassing. The AP reported her as saying Holtzclaw then raped her outside her own home.
Media silence around the trial has been “deafening,” Black Youth Project 100 member Samantha Master told Rewire.
“As we talk about the seemingly ubiquitous nature of police violence in the U.S. it seems that there is a blind eye turned to the particular types of violence faced by Black women and girls,” she said.
Pointing to the #SayHerName report published earlier this year by the African American Policy Forum—which recorded at least six deaths of Black women during or following violent encounters with police in 2015 alone, including the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody last July—Master noted that Black women not only run the real risk of being killed by law enforcement personnel, they are also vulnerable to high levels of sexual violence at the hands of the authorities.
Still, these stories seldom grab front-page headlines.
Local Oklahoma advocates this week lamented the low turnout of supporters on behalf of the alleged survivors at the start of trial, though a concerted push to pack the courtroom appears to have gained some momentum in recent days.
“When Black men and boys die at the hands of police officers, they are galvanized around. It is largely Black women who mobilize their communities around the missing and murdered bodies of Black men and boys, yet … there are very few people who see and hear and recognize the unique struggle that Black women and girls face, so we end up getting silenced,” Master said.
Having an all-white and majority male jury in the room threatens to further marginalize the witnesses, according to studies that have found racial and gender bias to play a large role in criminal trials.
“As a survivor of sexual violence I know what it means to have your experiences interrogated by people who do not fully see you as human,” Master said, adding that the jurors might not be able to empathize with the life circumstances of many of Holtzclaw’s alleged victims.
Tuesday’s trial comes just weeks after the AP released the findings of a yearlong investigation that revealed that 1,000 officers nationwide lost their badges as a result of sexual misconduct between 2009 and 2014.
Given that states like New York and California, home to some of the country’s biggest police departments, do not even maintain official records on dismissal due to misconduct, that number is “unquestionably an undercount,” the report stated.
Scouring five years’ of records pertaining to “police decertification,” the administrative process through which law enforcement personnel have their licenses revoked, the AP’s investigation shows that 550 officers were stripped of their badges for sexual crimes ranging from rape to consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse.
An additional 440 officers were decertified for other offenses, including possession of child pornography and “sexting” juveniles.