Daniel Ken Holtzclaw
December 10, 1986
|Occupation||Former Oklahoma City Police Department patrol officer|
|Conviction(s)||Guilty on 18 of 36 charges|
|Criminal charge||Rape, sexual battery, stalking, forcible oral sodomy|
|Penalty||263 years imprisonment|
|Imprisoned at||Lexington Assessment and Reception Center|
Daniel Ken Holtzclaw (born December 10, 1986) is an American former Oklahoma City Police Department patrol officer who was convicted in December 2015 of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, and other sexual charges.
Holtzclaw was convicted of eighteen counts involving eight different women. According to the police investigators, Holtzclaw abused his position as an officer by running background checks to find information that could be used to coerce victims into sex. During the trial, the defense questioned the victims' credibility during cross-examination, bringing up their criminal records. Of the thirteen women who accused Holtzclaw, several had criminal histories such as drug arrests, and all of them were African American. The prosecution argued that victims were deliberately chosen by Holtzclaw for these reasons.
Jason Flom (a founding Board Member of the Innocence Project), Michelle Malkin and others have supported Holtzclaw's claims of innocence. On August 1, 2019, Holtzclaw was denied an appeal by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld both his convictions and prison sentence. The defense petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States on the basis that merging seventeen cases together "strains credulity." On March 9, 2020, the Supreme Court refused the petition.
Daniel Holtzclaw was born December 10, 1986, in the U.S. territory Guam to Eric Holtzclaw and to a Japanese mother Kumiko Holtzclaw. His father is a lieutenant with the Enid Police Department, approximately 70 miles (110 kilometres) north of Oklahoma City. Holtzclaw graduated from Enid High School in 2005. While there he played football as a linebacker, setting a school record for 25 tackles in a game. He played linebacker at Eastern Michigan University, where he graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 2010. After graduating, Holtzclaw unsuccessfully attempted to get drafted into the NFL. Following that, he joined the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Criminal charges and conviction
Holtzclaw was accused of sexually assaulting multiple African American women over the period between December 2013 and June 2014, targeting those from a poorer, majority black portion of the city. According to the police investigators, Holtzclaw ran background checks on women with outstanding warrants or other criminal records, and methodically targeted those victims.
The offense that led to Holtzclaw's arrest happened around 2:00 a.m. on June 18, 2014, after Holtzclaw had already completed his shift on the northeast side of Oklahoma City and was driving to his residence in his assigned police vehicle. During that time, police said, Holtzclaw made a traffic stop without reporting to police dispatch, running a records check on the driver, or revealing that he logged off of his patrol car computer. The driver was Jannie Ligons, a 57-year-old woman who was passing through the impoverished area that police said Holtzclaw was targeting. Unlike other women that police said he had accosted, she was not poor and had no police record. Ligons said that before forcing her to perform oral sex on him, Holtzclaw made her lift her shirt and pull down her pants. She testified that she had begged him to stop and was afraid for her life. Ligons promptly filed a police report.
When Holtzclaw reported to the OKCPD Springlake Division station the following afternoon for his daily 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, he was pulled aside and driven to the department's Sex Crimes Unit by detectives Kim Davis and Rocky Gregory for questioning. After being Mirandized, Holtzclaw underwent a two-hour interrogation during which he denied all accusations of misconduct during the Ligons stop earlier that morning, and buccal swabs were taken for DNA comparison. At the conclusion of the interrogation, the two detectives told Holtzclaw that they believed that he was being untruthful based both on previous evidence and on statements made by Kerri Hunt, his 25-year-old cohabiting girlfriend, that countered claims Holtzclaw had made to the detectives. While he was released after the interrogation, Holtzclaw's commission and entry cards, uniform shirt and pants, badges, firearms (handgun and shotgun), radio, and keys to his assigned police vehicle were seized, and he was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave. After further investigation eventually turned up a dozen additional complainants, Holtzclaw was arrested two months later on August 21, 2014, and originally charged with 16 (and eventually 36) counts of sexual abuse offenses including rape in the first and second degrees, sexual battery, procuring lewd exhibition, stalking, and forcible oral sodomy.
While reviewing Ligons' case, the two sex-crimes detectives remembered a previous report of forced oral sex committed by a police officer. Looking back through police records, the detectives found the report of a woman who said she was stopped in May 2014 and driven to an isolated area by an officer who forced her to perform oral sex. No action had been taken at the time of her report, but when the detectives contacted the woman, she showed them the route that the officer had taken on the night of the attack, and it matched Holtzclaw's GPS route that evening. The detectives then reviewed Holtzclaw's automatically recorded history of running names through the department's two databases, looking specifically for people who had been checked out multiple times, and they contacted those women. In the initial investigation, six women were willing to come forward to testify, and the GPS device on Holtzclaw's patrol car put him at the scene of the alleged incidents. Police records showed that he had called in for a warrant check on all of them. Their investigation covered a six-month period, beginning with the first woman who was willing to come forward, a woman whom Holtzclaw arrested for drug possession in December 2013 and then forced oral sodomy from while she was handcuffed to a hospital bed.
Accusations of sexual assault and rape
Eventually, the police investigation brought together 13 women who were willing to testify; published reports did not include information on any possible further women who were not willing to testify. The earliest incident discovered was from December 20, 2013, where a woman said she had been arrested for drug possession, was hospitalized, and was forced to give oral sex while she was handcuffed to her hospital bed. She said that he again made sexual advances to her on several occasions after she was released from jail. The woman said that she was led to believe that she would be released if she performed oral sex on Holtzclaw. "I didn't think that no one would believe me," she testified at a pretrial hearing. "I feel like all police will work together."
On February 27, 2014, Holtzclaw allegedly pulled up to a woman who was sitting in a parked car outside her house, fondled the woman's breasts, and told her, "I'm not going to take you to jail. Just play by my rules." She said he returned to her home repeatedly and broke into it once. At his trial she said she did not notify the police because she did not believe anyone would believe her because "I'm a black female."
- March 14, 2014: Holtzclaw stopped a woman who was walking to a friend's house, asked her whether she was in possession of any drugs, and forced her to expose her breasts.
- April 24, 2014: Holtzclaw stopped a woman who was engaging in sex work. He drove her home and when they arrived he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her.
- April 25, 2014: Holtzclaw pulled a woman over saying he was taking her to detox in jail; he instead drove her to a field and raped her, leaving her there after he was done.
- May 7, 2014: Holtzclaw stopped a woman while she walked to her cousin's house. After finding out she had some warrants, he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her behind an abandoned school.
- May 8, 2014: According to a later investigation, "A woman, known in court documents as T.M., reported that an unidentified officer forced her to perform oral sex after he found a crack pipe in her purse. Although she filed a police report later that month, no connection was made to Holtzclaw at the time."
- May 21, 2014: Holtzclaw drove a woman to a secluded area and gave her an ultimatum: sex or jail. She performed oral sex on him and then he raped her. In an interview the woman said that she first thought it was a "cruel joke of some hidden-camera show" until she realized that he was serious. She said she "had been jailed many times before, and knew the math: a 15-minute ride downtown, two hours to be booked, up to a day of waiting to move to a cell, hearings drawn out over weeks or months," and then decided to give in to his demands, which she figured would only take about six minutes.
- May 26, 2014: Holtzclaw stopped a woman and touched her breasts and put his hand in her pants. The woman said she did not tell the police because she didn't think she'd be believed.
- June 17, 2014: According to an investigation, "A 17-year-old female is first stopped by Holtzclaw when he arrives to investigate a verbal dispute between two of her friends. Later, he tracks her down while she is walking home, threatens to arrest her for an outstanding warrant, and then takes her to her mother's house, where he forces her to perform oral sex and have intercourse with him on the enclosed porch."
- June 18, 2014: Around 2:00 am, Holtzclaw had an encounter with a 57-year-old grandmother, Jannie Ligons, who would ultimately be the one to spark the investigation. The final sexual incident occurred on the same day as the encounter reported by Ligons. According to testimony, Holtzclaw stopped a woman as she left a hotel where she had been staying with her boyfriend. After running a check on her he took her to a desolate area and raped her. She told her boyfriend about the attack and he told her that she should report the rape to the police. "He is the police", she responded.
- November 2014: In November three more victims came forward, bringing the total to 13. Previously unidentified DNA which had been found on Holtzclaw's pants was found to match that of a 17-year-old girl who had come forward regarding the June 17 event. Another woman said she was walking on May 22 when Holtzclaw stopped her to check for warrants. When he found that there were no warrants out for her he said he would jail her if she didn't have sex with him; he then forced her to perform oral sex and raped her. A third woman said that he told her he was bringing her to detox but instead brought her to an isolated area and raped her. Ten more counts, including "first-degree rape, second-degree rape by instrumentation, forcible oral sodomy, and sexual battery" were filed against Holtzclaw, who was still on paid leave.
The final jury was an all-white jury which consisted of eight men and four women. Three black men were selected to the first pool of 24 potential jurors, but were eventually rejected. The president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the NAACP expressed disappointment in the lack of minority jurors.
Holtzclaw, who had been on paid administrative leave since he was charged in August 2014, was fired in January 2015 and his trial began on November 2, 2015. He faced 36 charges, including sexual battery, assault, forcible oral sodomy, and stalking, and pled not guilty to all charges.
In court, prosecutors produced DNA evidence that was found on a triangle-shaped spot on the inside of Holtzclaw's uniform close to the zipper. After the hearing, his family made a statement that "The facts are that there is no DNA linking him to any of these women as far as was presented in the hearing." According to The New York Times, however, the DNA did match one of the victims, then aged 17. The DNA that was found was skin DNA; Holtzclaw's DNA was not found in the same area of clothing where the 17-year-old accuser's skin DNA was found. Holtzclaw's defense attorney explained the presence of the skin cells as "secondary transfer" whereby Holtzclaw's hands had possibly come into contact with the woman's skin cells when he searched her purse and later transferred them to the zipper area of his pants. During the trial, Holtzclaw did not contest that he encountered the women, but he maintained his innocence. The defense concentrated on the accusers' lifestyles and called just one witness, a former girlfriend of Holtzclaw's who testified he never exhibited sexually aggressive or inappropriate behavior around her.
On December 10, 2015, he was convicted on 18 of the charges, with the jury recommending that he serve 263 years in prison. Charges included first-degree rape, sexual battery, indecent exposure, stalking, forcible oral sodomy and burglary. He also faced second-degree rape by instrumentation and sexual battery charges. Claiming that evidence was withheld from the defense, Holtzclaw's attorney requested a new trial on January 20, 2016. The request was denied by the judge immediately.
A statement released by Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty reads, in part: "We are satisfied with the jury's decision and firmly believe justice was served."
Soon after his sentencing, all of Holtzclaw's information was removed from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DoC) website. The website shows data on a criminal's offense(s), mug shots, and jail location. When asked where Holtzclaw is currently located, DoC spokesperson Terri Watkins replied, "We are not going to comment, it is a matter of security." It was later confirmed that he was being held under an alias in an undisclosed Oklahoma state prison. As of April 2020, the ODoC database lists Holtzclaw as being housed at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Lexington, Oklahoma.
In a 2016 interview Holtzclaw reasserted his innocence.
In a unanimous opinion on August 1, 2019, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied Holtzclaw's appeal. The ruling, written by Judge Dana Kuehn rejected the appellant attorneys' claims of insufficient evidence and also of improper procedure for bundling all 36 charges together. The opinion denigrated allegations of a "circus atmosphere," noting that the jury returned not guilty verdicts on fully half of the charges. In his concurrence, Presiding Judge David B. Lewis referred to Holtzclaw as a "sexual predator." In their public condemnation of the ruling, Holtzclaw's family and supporters called Lewis' description a "vicious and false assertion."
According to The Atlantic, mainstream media gave Holtzclaw's trial for serial sexual attacks and rapes "relatively little" attention, although Black Lives Matter activists raised the matter in social media and helped bring attention to the ongoing judicial process. The Guardian reported that local activists were surprised that advocates from national women's groups, who had attended rape trials in the past, were absent from the courtroom at the start of the trial. Racial justice activists who had been very vocal about recent police-involved shootings were also accused of being largely absent from involvement in the Holtzclaw case.
In the absence of national attention, two Oklahoma City women, Grace Franklin and Candace Liger, formed the group OKC Artists For Justice to bring attention to the case. They said that they began to organize when Holtzclaw's bail was reduced from $5 million to $500,000 because it was so "insulting and infuriating", that they "wanted to stand up and say 'No. This is not OK. You cannot let a man who attacked and raped 13 women, per the charges, go home and have Christmas dinner with his family while those women are still in fear.'" Franklin said that they reached out to many national groups but received little response. She said, "It kind of fuels the feeling of separation between black so-called feminists and white feminists. Why aren't there more women out here of all shades, of all backgrounds for these women? Why are we doing this alone?"
An article in Cosmopolitan noted that the media consistently ignores the violence perpetrated against black women and girls as compared to the coverage given to white women and girls. The article concluded:
Mainstream media failed these women. The lack of coverage thwarted a national conversation about sexual violence as a distinct form of police brutality. The stories of these women need to serve as an important intervention in conversations about anti-black state violence, rape culture, and the vulnerability of sex workers, ex-offenders, and current and recovering drug addicts to state and state-sanctioned violence. This verdict and Holtzclaw's forthcoming sentencing are entry points for a more thoughtful, humane, and transformative national dialogue about police brutality and sexual violence. With or without mainstream media coverage, we need to continue talking about this trial and everything it represents.
Holtzclaw's case was part of an Associated Press report in a yearlong examination of sexual assaults by police. The report found that approximately 1,000 police officers lost their licenses for sex crimes during a six-year period. Reporting in the case indicates that this may be an undercount due to inconsistencies in how different jurisdictions deal with and report problem officers.
In February 2016, website SB Nation published a lengthy profile of Holtzclaw that focused on his college football career. The piece was immediately criticized as being apologetic and sympathetic to Holtzclaw; it was pulled within hours of publication. SB Nation subsequently suspended and later permanently shut down its long-form journalism program and cut ties with the freelance author responsible.
Columnist Michelle Malkin has written about the case, and has repeatedly argued that she believes Holtzclaw is innocent, saying that the forensic evidence backs his version of events, not the accusers' versions, and also that the investigators chose not to perform several tests she characterized as routine. Malkin debuted her first and second episodes of CRTV.com's Daniel in the Den on December 12, 2016 in Enid. Malkin released her film about the case, entitled Railroaded: Surviving Wrongful Convictions in 2017.
Jason Flom, a founding Board Member of the Innocence Project, dedicated an episode of his Wrongful Conviction podcast to interviews with Holtzclaw, his sister and a biologist who claims to have detected errors with the prosecution of the case.
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