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Attorneys representing a victim of a former police officer say the San Diego Police Department needs an independent monitor. At least one outside expert agrees.
San Diego’s police department can’t police itself, say attorneys representing a victim of officer sexual misconduct. They argue the department needs an independent monitor to oversee its internal complaints and address sexual misbehavior, harassment and gender profiling allegations.
“The San Diego Police Department is incapable of taking care of its own problems at this point,” said Joseph Dicks, one of the lawyers for a woman known in court documents as Jane Doe.
Doe is a victim of former SDPD officer Anthony Arevalos, who is serving an eight-year sentence for soliciting sexual bribes from five women while on duty. Doe’s asking a federal court judge to order the independent monitor as part of her civil suit. The judge would determine the monitor’s specific terms and how long the arrangement would last.
Over the last 20 years, outside monitoring has become a go-to remedy to clean up troubled police departments. Typically, they’re installed when a department has problems with brutality or racial profiling. But they can oversee a department for any reason. The U.S. Department of Justice recently installed a monitor to supervise the police department and university police in Missoula, Mont., after allegations they failed to adequately investigate sexual assault complaints.
Doe’s lawyers say SDPD missed numerous warning signs about Arevalos’ conduct going as far back as the late 1990s, and failed to fully examine sexual misconduct complaints against him. He was known within the department for targeting young, attractive women and sent lewd photos of women he stopped to fellow officers.
Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and expert on police reform, said monitors become necessary when there are failures of policy, training and supervision and inadequate reviews of officer performance. He believes SDPD needs one based on evidence from the Arevalos case.
“I have an impression that there really is a systemic problem within the San Diego Police Department on sexual harassment issues,” Walker said.
SDPD did not respond to a request for comment. Through a spokesman, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith declined to address the monitor issue.
“The city attorney plans to comment in the near future about actions he believes should be taken,” Goldsmith spokesman Tom Mitchell said.
The city argues in court filings that prior to the Doe incident, Arevalos’ conduct was less serious than Doe’s lawyers have alleged and say he was punished appropriately. The city’s investigation of Arevalos and his criminal prosecution proves the department takes a hard line against sexual misbehavior, city legal filings say.
“The evidence is clear that the San Diego Police Department consistently disciplines officer sexual misconduct,” a city filing says.
Beyond the Arevalos case, however, the department has dealt with lots of other significant misconduct allegations and screw-ups in recent years. Doe’s lawyers have referred to some of them to argue their case the department needs independent oversight.
Here’s a review:
• Another officer has been accused of serious on-duty sexual misconduct.
SDPD officer Christopher Hays was arrested this week on two felony counts of false imprisonment and three misdemeanor counts of sexual battery in relation to allegations from six women. Dan Gilleon, the attorney for one of the alleged victims, has said Hays threatened to arrest his client in October 2012 if she didn’t perform oral sex on him in his patrol car. Gilleon also alleged the department ignored warning signs about Hays’ behavior while he was in the police academy because Hays’ father-in-law is an assistant chief. Hays has denied all the allegations through his lawyer. Prosecutors haven’t charged Hays and police are continuing to investigate. He’s currently on unpaid leave from the department.
• Three female police officers have alleged sexual harassment and a department culture hostile to women.
Three female SDPD officers separately sued the city in 2011 and 2012, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Two of them, Deborah Burger and Stacee Botsford, worked in the sex crimes unit and described the unit’s atmosphere as hostile to women victims. In her suit, Burger included photos from male officers’ cubicles of scantily clad women and jokes about rohyphnol, better known as the date-rape drug. The third lawsuit was from detective Laura Zizzo, who alleged Southeastern Division Capt. Tony McElroy made sexually inappropriate remarks to her and the department retaliated when she complained. All three have settled their cases. The city paid out a total $120,000, including attorney fees. The city admitted no wrongdoing as part of any settlement.
• An SDPD detective failed to turn over evidence in the Arevalos case.
Arevalos may be getting a new trial on the most serious charges in his criminal conviction because an SDPD officer messed up. The SDPD detective, Lori Adams, failed to turn over handwritten notes from Doe about her incident to prosecutors, so Arevalos’ defense attorneys never got them either. The notes, which surfaced in Doe’s civil case, don’t mention that Arevalos assaulted Doe, and Arevalos argues his civil rights were violated because he didn’t have access to that evidence. During a hearing in Superior Court last week, Arevalos’ appellate attorney alleged Adams intentionally concealed the notes because they supported Arevalos’ innocence. But Judge Jeffrey Fraser said all evidence showed Adams had simply made a mistake. Fraser said he expected to rule on whether Arevalos will receive a new trial on the sexual battery charges related to Doe by the end of next week.
• Officers say the department culture tolerated and covered up misconduct.
In depositions from Doe’s civil case, former SDPD officers Arthur Perea and Kevin Friedman said the department has a code of silence to conceal officer misconduct and that officers routinely tore up traffic tickets for their friends and colleagues. Perea quit in 2011 while under investigation for sexual assault of a college student. He was never charged. Friedman, who was one of Arevalos’ supervisors, resigned in 2012 after pleading no contest to destroying a traffic ticket.
• There’s been a rash of misconduct complaints and an alleged cover-up of officer crime.
In the seven months leading up to May 2011, police launched 11 separate investigations into allegations of serious officer misconduct. Five officers were charged criminally, including Arevalos. Former officer Daniel Dana ended up pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of engaging in a lewd act in public after a prostitute accused him of raping her while he was on duty. Then in December 2012, officers were accused of trying to cover up the drunk driving of gang detective Jeffrey Blackford by having him run wind sprints and feeding him to lower his blood alcohol level. Blackford pleaded guilty to alcohol charges, and the district attorney declined to prosecute his colleagues.
After the spate of misconduct allegations in 2011, Lansdowne unveiled a seven-point plan to prevent further incidents. He planned to boost staffing in Internal Affairs, increase supervisor training, review the department policies on discipline and use of force, revamp the internal system for identifying at-risk cops, hold meetings with all officers and create a 24-hour confidential complaint hotline.
“This will not be a one-time communications campaign,” Lansdowne told City Council in late 2011. “This is a shift in the organization that reinforces who we are, our mission and our professional code of conduct.”
Serious public claims of officer misconduct are no longer happening at the rate they were before the reforms. Still, the allegations against Hays and the Blackford incident occurred since then.
Joshua Chanin, a public affairs professor at San Diego State University, wrote his doctoral thesis examining the effectiveness of Department of Justice intervention in local police departments. He believes independent monitoring can make significant improvements.
“It’s the most effective way to provide quick and lasting change,” Chanin said.
It’s also expensive. Chanin said increased use of independent monitors have led to a cottage industry of private attorneys and former high-ranking police officers who serve in that role. The city of Seattle, for instance, has spent more than $5 million on its federally mandated monitor and related reforms since its monitorship began in October 2012. The city’s monitor is recommending technology upgrades that could cost close to $12 million more, according to Crosscut, an online Seattle-based nonprofit news site.
“That’s not to say it would cost anywhere near that amount here,” Chanin said. “But if you’re talking any kind of comprehensive reform here, it’s $1.5 (million) to $2 (million) a year, I would guess.”