A former Virginia police officer was on-duty when he followed a 17-year-old high school student home and raped her in his patrol car in 2019, according to officials who’ve announced he’s been sentenced to nearly two decades in federal prison.
Cleshaun A. Cox, 31, previously pleaded guilty in state court to charges of carnal knowledge and abduction in August 2021 and was sentenced to five years in prison in relation to the rape, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a Nov. 28 news release.
He spent around 4.5 years in state custody as he awaited his federal sentence, according to the attorney’s office.
Now, Cox has been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for violating the civil rights of the teenager by forcibly sexually assaulting her while on duty for the Portsmouth Police Department, the attorney’s office said.
“There are no words to describe Officer Cox’s breach of our public trust,” Jessica D. Aber, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in the release. “The pain that he inflicted on the victim and the community is incalculable, but I hope this resolution can bring some measure of peace to those affected.”
Federal public defender Suzanne Katchmar, who represented Cox, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on Nov. 29.
Followed home after a noise complaint
On May 27, 2019, Cox and a senior police officer responded to a noise complaint involving the 17-year-old and her friend in a car at a parking lot in Portsmouth, according to court documents, McClatchy News previously reported.
It was the early hours of Memorial Day when the senior officer told the teen to drive home, as she hadn’t broken any laws except the city’s curfew, court filings say.
This officer was unaware Cox went on to follow her in his marked Portsmouth Police Department car, according to prosecutors.
When the teenager and her 18-year-old friend stopped to get gas, Cox pulled up and activated his vehicle’s blue police lights — but not his body-worn camera, prosecutors said.
Cox threatened to ticket the 17-year-old for “numerous minor offenses” with the intention “to coerce (her) into having sex with him,” according to prosecutors.
The teen then drove home, with Cox trailing behind in his police car, and sought to have her friend stay at her house, court documents say.
However, Cox is accused of having the teen drive her friend home to get her alone “so he could carry out his ultimate plan,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing documents.
After the teen dropped her friend off, Cox told her to drive to a parking lot, prosecutors said.
She listened to Cox’s demands and was presented with a “deal” of engaging in different sex acts with him in exchange to avoid being ticketed, according to the sentencing documents.
The teen told Cox “she did not want to engage in any sex acts,” but “because she feared (him) and believed she had no other choice, she got into his car,” prosecutors said.
Afterward, Cox drove her to an isolated location and raped her in the car, according to prosecutors.
Following the assault, which the teen reported immediately, Cox lied about the circumstances of the rape in an interview with Portsmouth police detectives, prosecutors said.
Ahead of his federal sentencing, the government argued in support of a 20-year prison sentence for Cox, the sentencing document shows.
He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and had requested the court to consider that sentence and nothing longer, according to a sentencing document filed on his behalf by Katchmar.
Katchmar wrote that being a Portsmouth Police Department officer was Cox’s “dream job” and he “betrayed the trust of his community” and family.
However, she wrote that a 15-year prison sentence for her client would be “excessive,” as “sometimes the process itself — the arrest, the public humiliation, the difficult talks with family, the serious and long-lasting collateral consequences of a conviction — is really what is needed.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors wrote that “(Cox) repeatedly reminded the victim of the power he held over her … (and his) targeting of a minor victim and his extensive abuse of his authority render his offense even more horrific than the grievousness inherent to the offense and heightens the need for a sentence that will provide just punishment.”
Cox must register as a sex offender under federal law, prosecutors said.