US & Canada

Oklahoma police officer guilty of raping women on his beat

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Media captionDaniel Holtzclaw cried as the guilty verdicts were read out in December

An Oklahoma City police officer has been convicted of raping and sexually assaulting black women in the poor area he worked in.

Daniel Holtzclaw, 29, stopped the women while out on patrol, searched them and then forced himself upon them.

Holtzclaw was convicted of assaults on eight victims, including a grandmother in her 50s and a 17-year-old.

The jury recommended a prison term totalling 263 years. He is due to be sentenced in January.

"Justice was done today, and a criminal wearing a uniform is going to prison now," Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said.

Standing with 'imperfect' accusers

The verdict was delivered on Holtzclaw's birthday - a reporter at the trial tweeted a video of supporters of the victims singing Happy Birthday in celebration at the verdict.

The case has drawn attention on social media, with some users commenting on a perceived lack of interest in the case from major media outlets.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

The court heard from several women during the trial.

The grandmother said she was driving home late at night when Holtzclaw pulled her over, asked if she had been drinking and then told her to get into his squad car and and ordered her to perform oral sex.

Another victim, who was 17 at the time, said Holtzclaw pulled up in his car as she walked home one night, drove her there, told her he had to search her, forced off her clothes and raped her.

Holtzclaw's lawyer insisted his client had been attempting to help the drug addicts and prostitutes he encountered in his work. Many of the women had arrest records or histories of drug abuse.

Two of the victims spoke out on their experiences at a news conference a day after the verdict was handed down.

"I wasn't a criminal, I have no record, I didn't do anything wrong," said Janie Higgins. "He picked the wrong lady to stop that night."

"I was helpless, I thought he was going to shoot me and kill me," she said. "He did things to me I didn't think a police officer would do."

Image copyright AP
Image caption There were protests outside the courtroom as the jury deliberated

Ms Higgins said she was traumatised and had a stroke following her encounter with Holtzclaw and that she went to therapy.

"I still live with this day after day."

Another victim, Sade Hill, spoke of her experience being violated by Holtzclaw in a hospital.

"I just couldn't even believe it. I was speechless, I was scared," she said. "I didn't know what to do. I felt like I was in survival mode so I had to do what he was making me do."

Ms Hill was abused in 2013 and did not come forward with her story until this July.

She said she never doubted during the trial that Holtzclaw would be brought to justice.

"My faith was strong in this whole situation," she said. "Black lives do matter. We matter. We are survivors."

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