Before former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos’ arrest in 2011, his supervisors knew he had made sexually charged comments to a woman with mental disabilities while transporting her to a hospital. They knew he looked at pornography at work on his department-issued computer. And they knew he had been accused of behaving inappropriately toward a 16-year-old girl during a traffic stop.

Supervisors had also cleared Arevalos of sexually assaulting a 28-year-old woman while taking her to jail a year before his arrest. They had sent him back out on the streets to patrol downtown alone. In that case, the sergeant in charge of the criminal investigation was convinced of Arevalos’ guilt, and a district attorney who later reviewed the case found problems with the department’s investigation (though still declined to prosecute him for it).

One of Arevalos’ colleagues described him this way: “Teflon.”

“I felt he believed no matter what he did, that he would not get in trouble,” said Henry Castro, who worked in traffic division with Arevalos and said in court filings he’d used the word.


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The depth to which high-ranking police officials knew about Arevalos’ behavior prior to his 2011 arrest for soliciting a sexual bribe from a 32-year-old women in a convenience store bathroom is revealed in a trove of interviews and documents from a civil lawsuit filed by Arevalos’ final victim.

With new accusations surfacing against two more SDPD officers this month, the court documents raise fresh concerns about the department’s ability to stop potential predators before they strike. Lawyers in the case are arguing SDPD has a pattern of covering up serious misconduct and are seeking a court-ordered independent monitor to oversee the department.

In the almost three years since Arevalos’ arrest, Police Chief William Lansdowne has admitted the department missed red flags about Arevalos’ behavior. The chief, who retired abruptly Tuesday, has promised numerous reforms to prevent further officer problems, and recently ordered an external audit of SDPD. Shelley Zimmerman, an assistant chief, was nominated Wednesday to be Lansdowne’s replacement. She promised to reinstate an internal anticorruption unit, which Lansdowne had disbanded, to proactively monitor officer conduct.

Arevalos’ final victim is known in court papers as Jane Doe. Among the revelations from her case:

• In the late 1990s Arevalos told his supervisor he’d flirted with a woman with mental disabilities in the back of his patrol car. Officer Francisco Torres, who was on the call with Arevalos, said his partner’s conduct went far past flirting. Torres said in a deposition that Arevalos had also taken naked photos of the woman and the woman had put Arevalos’ baton in her vagina while Arevalos watched.

Arevalos’ supervisor at the time, Rudy Tai, who now leads the department’s criminal intelligence unit, gave Arevalos a verbal warning after the incident. Tai said in his deposition he doesn’t recall being told of the more serious allegations. If he had, he said, he would have acted on them.

• In 2007, department officials found Arevalos repeatedly visited a pornographic website on his work computer while on duty. Arevalos was transferred to the traffic division as a result.

In a deposition, Arevalos’ supervisor in the traffic division said it’s department policy to advise new supervisors of any disciplinary transfers. She said she had no idea Arevalos had been transferred because of pornography on his computer.

• Later in 2007, the father of a 16-year-old girl complained to two of Arevalos’ supervisors about a traffic stop in La Jolla. He alleged Arevalos made his daughter, who was driving alone, get out of her car and bend over in front of him, ostensibly to check her registration tags.

Arevalos again was issued a verbal warning by his supervisors, who determined he had no reason to be in La Jolla because he was assigned to patrol downtown.

• In 2010, Arevalos was transporting a DUI suspect to jail when the arrestee alleged he pulled over and forced his hand inside her vagina.

At the jail, she immediately complained about being sexually assaulted. Two investigations were launched as a result of the complaint. An Internal Affairs investigation cleared Arevalos of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation was more controversial.

Sgt. Dan Cerar, who oversaw that investigation, concluded that Arevalos was guilty. He said in a deposition that his investigation was hampered by shoddy evidence gathering. A prosecutor, Sherry Thompson, agreed.

“I thought that the case was troubled in the way the police department handled it,” Thompson said.

Cerar said he wanted to bring in experienced detectives to work the case. His supervisor told him he couldn’t. Cerar also wanted to interview Arevalos’ colleagues in the traffic division. His supervisor denied that request, too.

“I was told this is as far as we’re going to go,” Cerar said.

The district attorney’s office decided not to bring charges against Arevalos. A year later, he was arrested in the convenience store bathroom incident. During that time, Arevalos solicited sexual bribes from at least three other women.

♦♦♦

When San Diego police officers are punished, Lansdowne said in his deposition, everyone’s aware of it.

“There are no secrets in this police department as it relates to discipline in this organization,” Lansdowne said. “It’s almost always common knowledge.”

In its legal filings, the city argued SDPD acted appropriately against Arevalos at all times, given the information available. The city says each incident either wasn’t sexual misconduct, didn’t happen or was properly investigated.

Still, the department’s failure to fully document problems with Arevalos’ behavior left him with a record that looked better than it should have.

Arevalos’ supervisor in the traffic division didn’t know about Arevalos’ previous discipline when he was accused of acting inappropriately toward a 16-year-old girl. Cerar, the sergeant who supervised the 2010 sexual assault investigation, didn’t know Arevalos had been punished before, either.

Had Cerar been allowed to interview Arevalos’ colleagues, he might have learned about the officer’s reputation. Arevalos’ fellow officers knew that he passed around the driver’s license photos of good-looking women he had pulled over, and they believed he profiled attractive women for traffic stops.

Tai, who was Arevalos’ supervisor in the 1990s, led the sex-crimes unit when Arevalos was arrested in 2011. Tai didn’t tell his own investigators Arevalos had admitted to flirting with a woman with mental disabilities in the late 1990s. He said in his deposition he didn’t think the incident was relevant to the case.

    This article relates to: News, Police, Police Misconduct, Public Safety, Share

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

    12 comments
    Big Dog
    Big Dog subscriber

    Liam,

    As I recall VOS wrote a story about a straw buy attempt with a gun dealer. The store owner said Arevalos was with a man of middle eastern decent, Arevalos threatened the store owner claiming racism. I will research, I believe that investigation was shut down by SDPD. If not true please correct me.

    Steve Yuhas
    Steve Yuhas subscriber

    Is this where we get to tell defenders of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) that there IS a systemic problem in the SDPD and that leadership changes shouldn't have taken this long? So many people qualify bad behavior by police officer with "99.9% of the police are good men and women," and that's probably true, but at some point systemic cultural problems emerge and this seems to be one of those times. You don't get away with all that Arevalos got away with without people at all levels thinking the behavior is okay. People in the media giving the SDPD a pass are wrong because that 99.9% they talk about is probably more like 80% and that is a problem.

    Terri Janke
    Terri Janke subscriber

    It is said, "Where there is smoke, there is fire." In this case there was not only smoke, but flames, heat, ash and a distinct cracking sound around Officer Arevelos. Apparently SDPD supervisors and officials operate without their senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell. Oh, and the most important of all -- common sense.

    Regina Allen
    Regina Allen

    They knew this jerk was a sexual predator and they set him loose in Downtown San Diego to prey on drunk young women. Great move.

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    Sounds a lot like Filner.  He was foisted on SD as a mayoral candidate when all the while he had avoided serious investigation for his behavior.  Sadly, the group behind his candidacy has been completely Teflon as far as being held accountable.  Is that worse than the situation with the police department?  

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscriber

    He is not the only teflon cop - and it's not only problems with women either. This is also why many good cops retire as soon as they can. It's a look-the-other-way attitude and don't even ask up the chain of command because you'll never get promoted. It's a common culture problem that no Chief has cared to address and has never had to. Now what? Hard to believe that promoting from within it going to be the answer - but bringing in Lansdowne wasn't - that's for sure. Political leaders praising the top cop is routine - they are sheltered from what really goes on.

    mel luce
    mel luce subscriber

    Well unfortunately it looks like Landsdowne  will be Chief Teflon because of his timely "retirement". He will not be held accountable for his in-actions, just like so many of his officers below him.  

    Sure we can say that many officers are clean but come on, SDPD knows everything that goes on with each other.  How other officers could let this continue to happen, by not being a "rat", they have in turn become  lower life forms themselves than Arevalos and scum like him.  

    Oh, and any numb skull who watches any tv knows police must give up all evidence, regardless.  So, just who are we employing?

    Very embarrassing for America's Finest City.

    ed wigdahl
    ed wigdahl subscriber

    Ms. Zimmerman stated that 99.9% of SD Cops are good cops.  I think her estimate is way off.  But even if she is right on the mark, 99.9% of 1,900 cops mean, if my math is close,  that there are at least 2 cops that the new chief would claim that are a threat to the citizens of and visitors to  San Diego.  To find these other "two" rogue officers, maybe the new Chief should look to those who tried to cover up the actions of the cops who had the poor luck of being discovered.    The Squirrels don't gather too far from the tree.