RICHMOND -- Richmond police Officer Mitch Peixoto received a commendation Tuesday for his helping to save a woman held captive as a sex slave for 14 years, and put her abuser behind bars.
In a room full of his fellow officers, Peixoto was honored by Chief Chris Magnus for his work on the case against Raul Ochoa, 52, who authorities said sexually abused a female relative and kept her captive from age 13 until she broke free at the age of 27. Ochoa was sentenced to 22 years in prison this month after pleading guilty to one count of forced lewd acts on a child and two counts of forcible rape, a deal that meant the victim would not have to face Ochoa in court.
"Without your dedication and thoroughness, it is highly likely that a sexually violent predator would still be among the community," Magnus told the officer.
Peixoto, a three-time "officer of the year" recipient, is known around the Richmond Police Department as a tactically sound officer who also happens to have a softer side, said Capt. Mark Gagan. In his 23 years, he's chased homicide suspects, solved robbery cases and worked undercover in narcotics. But, Gagan said, he has a gentle touch, once giving a bicycle to a 10-year-old boy who was beaten up and robbed for his wheels.
"He's physically imposing, but he's always very gentle and calm under pressure," said Gagan, who has known Peixoto since college, where Peixoto excelled in rugby and football.
It was that gentle touch that helped him build a rapport with the 27-year-old victim, who came to police headquarters to report herself as a runaway, officials said. The routine call quickly turned into one of the most horrifying sex crime cases in the county's history, as the woman began to tell Peixoto about the abuse at the hand of her relative.
When police later visited Ochoa's house, they found a plywood shed in the backyard, which the woman helped Ochoa build and where she was repeatedly raped, authorities said. She told Peixoto that when she was 15, a furious Ochoa took her home from an event, made her strip off her dress and burned it because he caught her dancing with a boy.
"It's almost like they are brainwashed," Peixoto said. "Not just the victim but the whole family."
The woman began talking to Peixoto at noon on that day in August 2012; by 6 p.m., Ochoa was in custody.
"And he's not getting out" anytime soon, Peixoto said Tuesday.
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.