Former New Mexico Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Sexual Abuse

Lawrence Etsitty, 30, a former police officer with the Navajo Police Department, pleaded guilty today in federal court to two charges related to the sexual abuse of a woman who was in his custody on Jan. 25, 2009. Etsitty pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of the victim when he touched and kissed her against her will, while she was handcuffed. Etsitty also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI in connection with the sexual assault. Etsitty did not enter a plea to the portion of the indictment that alleged the offense included kidnapping. According to court documents, on Jan. 25, 2009, at approximately 2:40 a.m., Lawrence Etsitty, while working in his capacity as an officer of the Navajo Police Department, 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. However, Etsitty then radioed in to dispatch that he did not have evidence for an arrest and that he was going to release the victim. Rather than releasing the victim and under the auspices of driving her home, Etsitty pulled off onto an isolated road in the desert, choosing this location because of its isolation and because there were no other vehicles or people nearby. He then 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 touching the victim while she struggled to get free and pleaded with Etsitty to take her home. Ultimately, Etsitty 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 made false statements in which he denied any sexually assaultive conduct. “Any law enforcement officer who uses his official authority as a means of preying upon and sexually abusing a person in his custody undermines the trust between citizens and police officers that is crucial to our justice system,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division commends the victim who came forward to report this reprehensible conduct and will vigorously prosecute sexual assaults by law enforcement officers.” Etsitty faces a maximum sentence of up to six years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. This case was investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.