New Orleans police officer Rodney Vicknair was in the emergency room last May with a 14-year-old girl he had driven in for a rape kit exam when he began showing her pictures on his cellphone. The images of a teenage girl in bikinis and lingerie, Vicknair allegedly said, were his daughter’s modeling pictures.
That’s how Vicknair first started grooming the girl for months of inappropriate calls, texts and meetings that eventually led to him sexually assaulting and raping her, the girl’s family alleges in a lawsuit.
Vicknair was arrested in September and charged with sexual battery, indecent behavior with a juvenile and malfeasance in office over his conduct with the girl, and swiftly fired from the police department. Now, her family is alleging the department didn’t do enough to stop Vicknair, who had a history of complaints for predatory behavior toward women.
Given that record, the 13-year veteran officer should have never been dispatched to the girl’s reported rape scene last May, her family argues.
“Officer Vicknair was a singularly bad choice for this task,” the lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana states. “He was not a member of NOPD’s Special Victims or Child Abuse units, and he had a long list of citizen complaints of unprofessional and illegal conduct.”
The city, the New Orleans Police Department and the office of the superintendent did not immediately respond to messages from The Washington Post late Wednesday. Vicknair also did not respond to a message.
Vicknair, who joined the department in 2007, had a history of complaints filed by officers and civilians involving allegations of unauthorized force, verbal intimidation and failure to follow department policy, among other cases, according to the suit. In 2009, he was accused of using a woman’s license plate to retrieve her personal information so he could summon her to his cruiser by name. The woman later filed a complaint with the Public Integrity Bureau and the department found he had acted “inappropriately.”
Last Memorial Day weekend, Vicknair was dispatched to a reported rape scene involving the 14-year-old girl. His task that day, the lawsuit states, was to take the girl to the hospital for a forensic medical examination.
When the 14-year-old girl was back home with her mother later that night, the lawsuit states, Vicknair called and asked to speak with the girl. Vicknair shared his contact information with her and began asking her personal questions.
During the next four months, Vicknair gained the girl’s trust by telling her he was her “mentor” and a police officer whom she could trust, the lawsuit says.
“He preyed on a single mother and her young daughter, a rape survivor, by positioning himself as a role model and protective male figure in their lives,” Hope Phelps, the woman’s attorney, told The Post in an email. “He then used that position to create distrust between them, isolating his target from her mother. He escalated from sexualizing the young girl to sexual assault and rape.”
On days when he was not calling or texting the girl, according to the suit, Vicknair would ask the girl to meet him inside his patrol vehicle outside her home. Other times, the lawsuit states, another officer would wait for him in the car while he visited her at home.
Once inside the girl’s home, Vicknair “would come up with pretexts” so he could be alone with her, the suit states. On one occasion, while the girl’s mother left to get him a glass of water, Vicknair allegedly leered at the girl in a sexually aggressive way. That same day after leaving, he texted the girl to describe the sexual acts he was imagining while her mother was not present, according to the suit.
Vicknair, who allegedly had sexually suggestive pictures of the girl as his phone’s lock screen, asked her to send him explicit photos. Twice while video chatting, the suit states, Vicknair exposed his groin area and made sexual comments.
Eventually, he began molesting her, the suit says. The 36-page lawsuit describes meetings where Vicknair groped the girl’s buttocks and solicited sexual acts, which the girl refused.
“Officer Vicknair repeatedly described sexual acts he would like to engage in with G.H. and suggested the fact that she was a minor would not stop him,” the suit states.
Then, twice inside his police vehicle, Vicknair inserted his fingers inside the girl’s vagina, the lawsuit says. He was armed with his gun during both incidents, and after one attack, Vicknair allegedly took the girl’s underwear.
Days before the girl was raped a second time, the girl’s mother reported Vicknair to the Office of the Independent Police Monitor for inappropriate behavior. But Vicknair, the suit states, was allowed to remain on the streets and rape again while an investigation was underway.
When he was arrested in September at his home in St. Tammany Parish, the suit states, the girl’s underwear was still in his possession. He was charged with sexual battery, indecent behavior with a juvenile and malfeasance in office and placed on emergency suspension, the New Orleans Police Department told WVUE.
He was fired in January and the the agency has contacted the FBI to investigate potential civil rights violations, a spokesperson with the police department told The Post.
“As I stated from the moment this was brought to my attention, this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, who is also a defendant in the suit, said in an email. “These actions violate the basic trust citizens should never have to worry about with their police department.”
The girl, who is now 15, and her mother are still reconstructing their lives months after the attacks, her attorney said.
“Investigation and trial are often retraumatizing experiences for rape survivors," Phelps told The Post. “In this case, our client and her daughter are shouldering a great burden to make sure Officer Vicknair and the system that made his actions possible are held to account.”