When Iema Lemons called 911 about a disturbance at her house, the last thing she expected was that she’d be cornered in her bathroom, strangled, and raped by a police officer. But that’s what happened in 2010, when former Milwaukee officer Ladmarald Cates arrived at her house. He waited until his partner was out of sight before trapping and assaulting Lemons. Then he arrested her on a bogus charge.
Lemons immediately alerted the police about what happened to her, leading to an internal investigation that ended with Cates’ termination. During that time, Lemons discovered the officer had a record of sexual misconduct and violent behavior, yet the police failed to discipline him for years. On Tuesday, five years after her assault and three years after Cates was convicted for it, a federal judge ruled that Lemons can take the city of Milwaukee and its chiefs of police to court for years of negligence.
Prior to raping Lemons, which he told investigators was a consensual sexual interaction, Cates was accused of sexually violating a female prisoner, coercing a woman he arrested into having sex in turn for her release, and having sex with a minor. He was also arrested for choking and raping his girlfriend. Although he was investigated multiple times, the District Attorney chose not to prosecute Cates. He was only suspended once.
“Milwaukee Police Officers acting within the scope of employment and under color of law, and in contravention of clearly established law, raped, and sexually assaulted, battered, used excessive force and threats, obstructed, hindered, impeded, failed to aid, falsely arrested, and illegally detained Iema,” reads the federal lawsuit that Lemons filed in 2013. Lemons sued her attacker, Milwaukee police chiefs Nanette Hegerty and Edward Flynn for “[turning] a blind eye,” and the city for refusing to take action against Cates. “These outrageous, cruel, reckless acts, shocking to the conscience, occurred because the City of Milwaukee and its policymakers intentionally and with deliberate indifference condoned, permitted, ignored, enabled, acquiesced in and trivialized this and similar unlawful conduct by the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD).”
On Tuesday, Judge Charles Clevert denied the city’s summary judgment motion, effectively ruling that there are enough facts in the case to proceed with trial. Cates is currently serving a 24-year prison sentence for the rape in 2010, yet the case against him and the officials who condoned sexual misconduct is far from over.
Cates is far from the only sexual predator in law enforcement. Early this year, the Associated Press investigation revealed that roughly 1,000 officers had their badges revoked for sexual misconduct in the past six years, for crimes including rape, sexual assault, “propositioning” citizens, and possession of child pornography. In January, former Oklahoma City officer Daniel Holtzclaw was sentenced to 262 years in prison for the “rape, sexual battery, [and] forcible sodomy” of multiple black women.
But convictions of people like Holtclaw and Cates are rare. Police chiefs across the country routinely turn a blind to rape culture within their departments. Al Jazeera America investigated 20 departments and concluded that only three took steps to prevent sexual misconduct by their officers. Thirteen of those departments reported having no policy to deal with that type of misconduct.
Cops have more power than most sexual abusers because of the nature of their work. Holtclaw, for instance, was able to rape and assault his victims because they were poor, black, and had criminal histories — three factors that made them extremely vulnerable. Unlike other predators, officers can threaten to use their weapons or arrest victims who don’t comply. According to Lemons, she feared for her life because Cates was carrying a gun during the attack. Rape culture also makes it so that victims of sexual assault are rarely believed, and less so when an attacker is a trusted official whose job it is to serve and protect the public.