The police and sexual assault

Frontera NorteSur

Tijuana’s city government has fired 15 police officers accused of forcing
a female detainee to strip naked and dance while in custody. Alcides
Beltrones, secretary-general of the municipal government, confirmed that
the chief of the La Presa rural district was among the dismissed
officers.

A scandal erupted earlier in the spring, when a video showing the forced
stripping hit the Internet and registered 50,000 hits in a single day.

“It’s a negative image and a joke on our city,” said Karim Chalita
Rodriguez, president of the Tijuana branch of the National Chamber of
Commerce.

In the video, a young female detainee is forced to strip to the hoots and
hollers of police officers, including three women. With the permission of
a supervisor, one of the male officers then touches the detainee’s breasts
during a “table dance.” Reportedly, the woman was forced into the act in
return for not being charged for drug possession along with her arrested
boyfriend.

Tijuana city official Beltrones said authorities planned to file a legal
complaint with the Baja California state attorney generals’ office against
the fired officers for abuse of authority.

A broad spectrum of civic and political leaders condemned the police
behavior, but published comments focused on the political and public
relations implications of the scandal as opposed to issues of gender
violence and the specter of gang rape.

Tijuana’s leaders are working to overcome the city’s image as a lawless
border city that is inhospitable to tourists.

“This act not only undermines the Tijuana police force, but also the
city,” said Tirso Luevano, president of the Tijuana Bar Association.

Tijuana cops are not the only ones who’ve faced public scrutiny over
allegations of sexual assault. In multiple cases, police officers in the
US border states of Texas and New Mexico have also been recently accused
of serious wrong-doing with women detainees and prisoners.

In April, a Texas grand jury indicted El Paso Police Department officer
Zake Rivera on charges of sexual assault and official oppression.
Allegedly, Rivera forced a woman to perform oral sex on him during a
domestic violence call last winter. The indictment came after DNA sampling
and a photo line-up produced evidence against Rivera.

In New Mexico, two officers confront legal troubles around sexual
misconduct charges. In the first instance, Socorro County Deputy Shawn
Baca was recently ordered held in lieu of a $500,000 cash-only bond after
he was accused of kidnapping, extortion, sexual contact of a minor and
tampering with evidence.

In different complaints, three women claimed that Baca forced them to
reveal private body parts after being stopped by the officer on Interstate
25, the busy highway corridor between Las Cruces-El Paso-Juarez in the
south and Albuquerque and Denver in the north.

According to the complaints, which allegedly occurred in February and
March of this year, speeding-sometimes less than ten miles over the limit-
was the reason given by Baca for the stops; in New Mexico, Socorro is
known as a notorious speed trap.

In one stop, Baca is alleged to have touched a teenage girl and taken
pictures of her with his cell-phone.

“It’s very concerning for the department, and for all police departments,”
said Socorro County Deputy Shorty Vaiza. “It’s a black mark.”

Up the road from Socorro, in Valencia County directly south of
Albuquerque, another law enforcement officer, Deputy Patrick Duran, faces
extortion and kidnapping charges in connection with a September 2010
incident strikingly similar to the later ones reported in Socorro.

Citing court documents, an Albuquerque television station reported that
Duran pulled over a car and then allegedly ordered a woman passenger to
pull down her pants and bend over.

The legal accusations against officers Baca and Duran followed news
reports of alleged rapes of women inmates by two guards at the Bernalillo
County Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque and a state women’s
prison.

Unlike the scandal and polemics in Tijuana, the incidents in El Paso and
New Mexico have not touched off an equivalent political uproar-except for
sharp comments posted by citizens on the Internet.

Yet the Texas and New Mexico cases are far from unique in the United
States. According to New York civil rights attorney Andrea Ritchie,
allegations of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers shock a
society that is accustomed to viewing police as “protectors in efforts to
combat violence against women.”

In an article circulated on the Internet after the prosecution of two New
York cops for rape, Ritchie contended that “experiences of sexual
harassment, assault, abuse and outright rape by police officers are by no
means isolated…”

As an example, Ritchie referred to the 2002 “Driving While Female” report
by the University of Nebraska’s criminal justice department that
documented more than 400 sex harassment and abuse cases involving official
traffic stops. According to the attorney, only a quarter of the cases
resulted in sanctions against offenders.

In her article, Ritchie urged “affirmative steps” to halt sexual violence
by officers before it begins, and demanded a zero-tolerance policy
including a review of investigative and disciplinary measures related to
“sexualized police violence.”

Additional sources: El Sur/Proceso, May 28, 2011. El Sol de Tijuana, May
24 and 30, 2011. Articles by Laura Sanchez Ley and Sonia Garcia Ochoa.
Frontera.info, May 24, 2011. Associated Press, May 24, 2011. El Universal,
May 23, 2011. Article by Julieta Martinez.

Dchieftain.com, May 20, 2011. Article by Jackie Schlotfeldt. El Paso
Times, April 21, 2011. Article by Adriana M. Chavez. KOB.com, December 21,
2010; March 3, 2011; May 17 and 27, 2011. Articles by Jeremy Jojola,
Cristina Rodda and editorial staff.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email: fnsnews@nmsu.edu

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