Lawrence Etsitty , 31, a former police officer with the Navajo Police Department (NPD), was sentenced today in federal court on charges related to the sexual abuse of a woman who was in his custody on Jan. 25, 2009. Earlier this year, Etsitty pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of the victim when he groped, touched and kissed her against her will, while she was handcuffed. Etsitty also was charged and pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
According to court documents, on Jan. 25, 2009, at 2:40 a.m., Etsitty, while working in his capacity as an officer of the NPD, arrested the victim outside of the Fire Rock Casino in Churchrock, N.M. Etsitty then handcuffed the victim and placed her in the back of his patrol vehicle. Etsitty then drove the victim to an isolated road in the desert, opened the back door of his patrol car where the handcuffed victim was sitting, and forcibly pulled her toward him and out of the car. Etsitty then began groping the victim, while she struggled to get free, pleading for Etsitty to take her home. Ultimately, Etsitty agreed to do so and dropped the victim off in a parking lot near her home, at which point the victim ran away.
On Jan. 27, 2009, Etsitty voluntarily spoke to the FBI and falsely claimed that he did not grope the victim while she was in his custody. Etsitty later wrote a letter of apology to the victim in which he admitted to groping and kissing her while she was in his patrol car, and acknowledged that what he did was wrong and should not have happened.
Etsitty was sentencing to 54 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He will also be barred from serving in a law enforcement capacity.
“Police officers who use the power of their badge to sexually assault persons in their custody pose a serious threat to the rule of law,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division.. “We commend the courage of the victim in coming forward and speaking out about this terrible crime. The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute these crimes.”
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI and was prosecuted by Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.