Ex-Fort Worth officer given 20 years for on-duty sexual assaults
FORT WORTH -- With his uniform and police badge, Daniel Lopez had the tools to find his victims.
Investigators say the Fort Worth officer "cased" several women he had detained, checking their records and asking questions for hints of vulnerabilities that he could exploit to get them into his patrol car and, ultimately, to perform sex acts.
"He would profile them to see if they had something in their background or something he could use to manipulate them to get them to comply or ... he'd scare them into complying," Detective Sherry Kelly said.
One victim, according to Kelly, said, "I thought he was going to kill me. I couldn't imagine he was going to let me go after he did what he did to me."
On Wednesday, Lopez pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on each. The sentences will run concurrently, meaning that Lopez will become eligible for parole in 10 years.
"It's a terrible crime anytime a person is raped, but when that perpetrator is a police officer, that just takes it to another level," Tarrant County prosecutor Betty Arvin said. "This is a person who is sworn to uphold the law, sworn to protect people, and not only did he violate the trust of the victims, he also violated the trust of the community and he violated the trust of the other police officers with whom he worked day in and day out."
Jim Lane, Lopez's attorney, declined to comment after the court hearing.
Lopez had been on the force just shy of six years when he resigned Dec. 7, 2010. One day later, he was arrested in one of the cases.
He had been free on bail before Wednesday's hearing. He was immediately taken to Tarrant County Jail.
The investigation of Lopez began in late November 2010 after a woman reported to police that Lopez assaulted her on Thanksgiving night.
The woman told officers of the Special Investigation Unit that she was delivering a Thanksgiving meal to a friend at a motel when a Fort Worth police officer approached her car in the parking lot and said she had a tail light out. The officer asked to see identification and went through her purse, where he found a syringe.
"When he handcuffed her and left the scene, she thought she was en route to jail," Kelly said.
Instead, Lopez drove her to a secluded area in Gateway Park where, investigators said, he told her she could "go to jail" or "work this off."
Lopez forced the woman to perform oral sex, then released her about a block from the motel, Kelly said.
"He makes a comment to her along the lines of, 'You don't need to go and see your friend. You just need to go home. I better not see you on this side of town again,'" Kelly said.
The woman later tracked down the officer's name and reported him to police.
As Kelly and Detective Matt Hardy prepared to interview Lopez and put him on restricted duty, Detective Jose Hernandez learned that another women had reported to the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department that a Fort Worth officer had sexually assaulted her.
The second woman said she was walking down a street in early November when an officer drove up, asked her name and then handcuffed her and put her in the back of his patrol car. He drove her to a park on Parker Henderson Road and told her that he knew she had a record of prostitution.
"The officer told her to give him oral sex or she'd go to jail," Hernandez said. "She felt threatened," so she complied.
Lopez denied both accounts. He told investigators that he had driven the woman assaulted on Thanksgiving to a parking lot near the motel to question her about drug activity.
He said could not remember why he had detained the second woman, whose name investigators found in a notebook in which Lopez jotted down contacts he made while on duty.
"He didn't deny dealing with that victim. He just didn't recall why he had that information in his notebook," Kelly said.
Using GPS records, Detective Rick Benson learned that Lopez's patrol car was in the areas where the women were picked up and sexually assaulted, and at the same times.
Tracking down others
The second woman told investigators that a third woman had described a similar assault by a police officer.
"She gave us the first name and description of this victim," Hernandez said. "We started looking for her, actually going out and canvassing the streets." Sgt. W.A. Hicks tracked her down.
The third woman told police that an officer saw her jaywalking.
"The officer tells her she has a couple of warrants and he could take her in for that," Hernandez said. "She thought the officer was going to release her, but the officer drove her to Prairie Dog Park."
There, he forced her into a field where he made her perform oral sex. Again, Benson's research of GPS records showed that Lopez's car had been in the areas described by the woman.
At a later meeting, the Thanksgiving victim gave Kelly the name of a potential fourth case, which she had learned from her attorney.
"She told me apparently her attorney had been investigating the officer," Kelly said.
After confirming that Lopez had once run the fourth woman's name through the police database, Ty Hadsell, one of two sergeants then overseeing the Special Investigation Unit, contacted the attorney and met with the woman.
She said she had been in a convenience store when Lopez walked in.
"He had her come outside and ran her [criminal record] and found she had a history he could manipulate," Kelly said.
The woman persuaded Lopez to drive her to an Arlington motel, where he coerced her into having sex.
"She was convinced he was going to kill her in a desolate area," Kelly said of the woman's reason for the motel. "She basically felt like she was negotiating her life."
When investigators realized that Lopez had checked the women's criminal records before assaulting them, they began contacting women whose records Lopez had viewed. There were dozens.
That way, they found a fifth woman who told an FBI agent assisting in the case that Lopez had detained her and driven to an abandoned area behind a building where he forced her to perform oral sex.
Kelly said the woman told a friend but didn't report it to police. "They all said that they didn't believe anyone was going to believe them," Kelly said.
Two of the women were in court Wednesday. Arvin read their victim impact statements aloud.
One said Lopez "destroyed" her. "This affected me in an emotional and physical way because I do not look at police officers the same anymore," she said.
Another said she could no longer teach her children to trust the police or believe that they will protect you.
"Using your authority to your sick advantage was not right," she wrote.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655