ISLETA PUEBLO, N.M. (KRQE) — A New Mexico police officer is accused of raping a drunken-driving suspect while taking her to jail, and the alleged victim said she felt she had no choice, fearing he would add charges or worse.
The 22-year-old officer, was arrested Tuesday by New Mexico State Police. They said the man, who worked for the Isleta Police Department, admitted to having sex with the woman.
The woman reported the assault last week at a hospital.
She said she was arrested by the officer for DWI, and on the way to jail, he pulled his patrol car over into a dark area and asked her to come to the driver’s side. She said he took off his vest and gun belt and then raped her.
Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, said while it’s frustrating someone sworn to protect their communities abused that power, it’s not uncommon.
“Rape is fundamentally about an abuse of power, and that’s essentially what we are seeing here,” said Charley. “Unfortunately, we do know that this is common.”
The woman said she was scared and afraid that the officer would shoot her or add extra charges to her DWI case if she didn’t comply. She said the officer told her, in exchange, he would talk to the judge to help reduce her charges and “if they spent a longer amount of time together, she would spend a shorter amount of time in jail and would get to see the judge quicker.”
A couple of days later, the woman told investigators, she tested positive for chlamydia following the alleged assault.
“Sexual misconduct by police officers is the second-highest type of misconduct, right behind police brutality,” said Charley. “We know that police officers who do this, they do target those most vulnerable — gender non-conforming people; in this instance, someone who was under the influence, folks who engage in sex work. These are populations of people who are targeted because they’re seen as less credible.”
In an interview with NMSP, the officer admitted having sex with the woman while she was under arrest but said she had initiated the encounter and that he had a lapse in judgment.
The woman told police she recognized the officer from a previous domestic violence incident and that he had messaged her on Facebook afterward. She said she felt like he was “trying to hit on her.”
Vernon Abeita, the governor of the Isleta Pueblo, issued a statement confirming that the man is no longer employed by the Pueblo.
He faces multiple felony charges, including criminal sexual penetration, false imprisonment, demanding or receiving a bribe by a public officer, and ethics violations.