After eight years, Valerie Arend has won a judgment that adds up to more than a quarter-million dollars against Hector Paez, a former Denver police officer convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting her while on duty. But Arend's attorney, Lauren Maytin, says the immediate rewards for Arend are more psychological than fiscal.
"He's still in prison, and we're going to have a hell of a time collecting," Maytin acknowledges. "But my client feels some vindication, she feels a little bit of relief. She was injured in the criminal case, and the whole process is just ugly for victims in her position. She has had to relive that moment over and over. So when people recognize that you've been damaged and they want to punish the individual for doing what he did, you feel like you're not crazy. But it's been a long time coming."
Maytin's description of what happened to Arend on May 16, 2010, is harrowing and may disturb some readers.
Paez, who was hired by the Denver Police Department in 2006 and served as a patrol officer in District 4 at the time, "decided to stop my client while in uniform on a Sunday afternoon," she recounts. "Before he had a second contact with her, he removed the name from his uniform. Then he had her sit on the hood of his car and ran her name, and he arguably found some things out about her that made him think that maybe she wouldn't rat on him."
Specifically, Arend was named in an outstanding warrant from Jefferson County.
Upon this discovery, Maytin goes on, Paez "decided he was going to ask her to give him oral sex. She was terrified and began to do that — and he said he wouldn't take her to jail and would let her go if she did what he asked. He then said that he was going to anally rape her, and she said, 'No way, no how. Take me to jail.' So he had her finish what she was doing originally. And as soon as she could, she ran out of the car, thinking he was going to shoot her in the back and call her an escaped prisoner."
Instead, Arend "ended up getting to safety," Maytin notes, "and after some coaxing from family and close friends, she decided to report what happened to Internal Affairs," the DPD division charged with investigating citizen complaints, among other things.
Paez was subsequently arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, second-degree kidnapping and an attempt to influence a public servant by lying about the incident during the IA inquiry, and in September 2011, jury selection got under way. But after new evidence that hadn't previously been shared with the defense team surfaced, the judge in the case declared a mistrial and the jury was disbanded.
A new trial was set for April 2012, but it was delayed after Paez's attorney, Gary Lozow, was injured in a car crash. Shortly thereafter, Arend filed a civil suit in the case under her own name. Maytin notes that the Denver Police Department was initially a defendant along with Paez, "but they were let out of the case."
In early 2013, Paez was convicted on the first two original charges, both felonies, as well as false reporting, a misdemeanor. But at his sentencing hearing, he asked for probation, arguing that putting him in jail was tantamount to imposing a death sentence. The judge eventually gave Paez eight years — a sentence less severe than Arend wanted. But in an apparent acknowledgment of the dangers that face convicted police officers, he also took the highly unusual step of granting Paez a $100,000 bond while he appealed his conviction, over the objection of prosecutors.
This was only the first of the delays impacting Arend's civil suit. According to Maytin, Paez "eventually got sent to prison, but he kept filing appeals — and we had to wait for his appeals to be exhausted before we could move forward."
The civil case finally got out of the starting gate in early September 2017, after "cert was denied by the Colorado Supreme Court," Maytin explains. "That made all of his convictions final in the criminal matter, so we were able to use that finality to establish liability. Because of his trial, all we had to do was prove damages — that the damages my client had suffered were a result of his actions."
Thanks to the efforts of a legal team that included attorney Alison Ruttenberg, a trial of Paez in the civil matter was set — and earlier this month, Arend won a verdict against him of $167,250, plus an additional $100,000.
Because Paez is behind bars, this cash won't be forthcoming for a while. "I know he has been seeking early release for a long time," Maytin allows. "He'll have a parole hearing at some point, and when they get out, parolees are required to get a job. So we will have to, depressingly, follow him around and garnish his wages. And we will."
As for Arend, "she has real issues because of this," Maytin says, "and they're hard to work through. So this money will eventually help her get the resources she needs — counseling and things like that — to help her deal with what he did to her."
When viewed from that perspective, her eight-year ordeal is far from over.