A teenager’s complaint that she was sexually assaulted by two El Paso police officers who remained free while she was jailed has set off an unusual set of judicial investigations, says the New York Times. Two rare State Courts of Inquiry are trying to determine whether El Paso’s prosecutor and police department conspired to shield officers accused of brutalizing people in at least six cases. District Attorney Jaime Esparza and interim Police Chief Richard Wiles denied wrongdoing. Dismissals from the department for use of excessive force are rare. From 1999 through March 2004, El Paso officers made about 36,000 arrests, with 1,830 accusations of excessive force, which led to the dismissals of five officers and the resignations of two. In a city of 638,000, the 1,100 police officers and 300 civilians and their dependents “constitute a pretty good voting bloc,” said Sam Snoddy, a lawyer who represents people with complaints against the police. “The D.A. does not want to hack the police off.”
Esparza defended an unusual arrangement, which critics call unconstitutional, that has his office rather than a magistrate setting bail for many defendants. An inquest is set for June 14 in the case of Nancy Hollebeke, now 20. In an interview in her lawyer’s office, She charges that in 2002, she had been drinking and smoking marijuana with friends when two officers found her hiding behind shrubs in the desert, pulled down her pants and inserted fingers or an object into her vagina. A medical report said she had suffered “multiple abrasions to body and vaginal abrasion” and “a two-millimeter superficial tear” in her labia. The officers were not charged, but four months later, Hollebeke was arrested on charges of filing a false report, a misdemeanor, and jailed for seven hours. Other cases under review by a second Court of Inquiry involve a woman who says she was raped by her husband, a police officer, who was exonerated without the prosecutor calling her or other witnesses before a grand jury; the former wife of a police officer who says he beat her and buzzed her house in a police plane; and a Marine corporal who says he was hit and jailed for no reason.