When a cantina waitress came home crying with bruises on her wrists, arms and legs to tell relatives that she’d been raped by a Houston police officer, they didn’t believe her at first.
She had told them that an officer handcuffed her outside her workplace, drove her to a secluded park and – still in handcuffs – raped her multiple times, including on the trunk of his police cruiser.
“I just never thought that a police officer would do that to a person,” Israel Ramirez, a family member, testified through a translator Tuesday in a Harris County courtroom.
Abraham Joseph, 28, is on trial for two counts of aggravated sexual assault in the alleged Jan. 2 rape, which could result in a prison sentence of five years to life. A Harris County grand jury indicted Joseph on Jan. 20, and Houston Police Department officials said they relieved the officer of duty the same day the woman reported the alleged attack.
The Houston Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual assaults.
On Tuesday, Ramirez and his girlfriend, Ana Riviz, shared what they saw when they asked the victim for proof, initially disbelieving that an officer would harm a civilian.
They drove back to the park where she said the attack happened, finding tire tracks and body fluids, Ramirez said. Back at home, they debated whether to call police.
“She didn’t have any legal documentation,” Ramirez said. “The fear was that they’d come and say, ‘Look, you’re lying,’ then arrest her and deport her.”
Hours later, they called 911. After talking with officers at their home, Ramirez accompanied one officer to Townwood Park to show them what they had found. Riviz went to the hospital with the woman, who is in her 20s.
Defense attorney Nicole DeBorde told the jury in her opening statements Tuesday morning that they undoubtedly would want to scold Joseph because he made several mistakes.
“He compromised his ability to do what he needed to as a police officer,” DeBorde said. “But what Mr. Joseph did not do was anything that was not by agreement.”
DeBorde told the jury that the witnesses and victim “have a great deal to gain” for making such serious allegations against a police officer. The woman has filed a lawsuit against Joseph.
DeBorde also said “little things” in the case don’t add up and are not trivial, but very important to Joseph.
In questioning, she targeted memory differences such as was it Ramirez or Riviz who drove to the park and conflicting statements provided to officers.
Only one officer who arrived later spoke fluent Spanish, so Ramirez, who spoke limited English, translated for the first officer to arrive at their home.
HPD patrol officer Vernon English, one of the first responders to the call, also testified Tuesday, reviewing photos of the tire tracks and dried fluids he found at the park.
As a trainer for new officers, English said he met Joseph on his first day and regularly asked questions about how to fill out different reports. Joseph joined the force in July 2009 and was assigned to the department’s Southwest Patrol Division.
“He was really quiet,” English said. “I was one of the only senior officers to my knowledge he would have a conversation with.”
The plaintiff is expected to testify when the trial continues Wednesday. Advocates say illegal immigrants are often victimized because of their fear of reporting crimes to police.
“She’s going to tell you that she’s the perfect victim for a cop who’s a rapist,” said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Heyward Carter in his opening statement. “Abraham Joseph made one mistake, just one: He underestimated (the victim’s) bravery and her willingness to come forward.”