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Shortly after the announcement of three settlements with victims, Councilman David Alvarez released a foreboding statement that hints at a deeper problem within the department. Here’s where things stand on improving oversight in the department.
City Council voted Tuesday to settle three lawsuits with victims of sexual abuse by San Diego police officers for a total of $1.56 million. But the news comes with an incomplete sense of closure.
Shortly after the vote, Councilman David Alvarez released a foreboding statement that voiced discontent with the decision. Scott Lewis captured it on Twitter:
— Scott Lewis (@vosdscott) April 28, 2015
Two of the lawsuits settled this week were filed by women against ex-cop Christopher Hays. The women had testified Hays groped and forced them to perform inappropriate acts during his respective contacts with them. A fourth woman also said Hays groped her after her arrest, according to City News Service.
The investigation of Hays took a turn in March, when 10News obtained a report the officer had filled out in June 2013. In that report, Hays said he’d been the victim of sexual assault while responding to a domestic violence call, alleging that the woman involved had groped him after he tried to comfort her. That’s not how she remembers it.
Around the same time, 10News reported Hays’ supervising lieutenant had received a 30-day suspension after failing to act on information about Hays’ behavior.
In March, multiple ongoing civil lawsuits involving Hays were docketed for discussion during a City Council closed session. At the time, we spoke with Alvarez and he declined to comment on anything involving Hays. But he said a federal report on SDPD, which was released around the same time, gave him ongoing concerns about how supervisors handle potential misconduct by patrol officers.
“What they found was the failure for accountability on the side of management,” Alvarez told us then. “I can only assume that that’s continued because I don’t know in which instances there actually was action taken to address those serious failures. That’s something that the chief needs to explain.”
Let’s review the standout findings of that report by the feds earlier this year:
“On a broad level, [researchers] did not identify any particular policy failure or common underlying factor that tied the misconduct cases together,” the report said. “Rather, it was gaps in policies and practices, a lack of consistent supervision at many levels and a failure to hold personnel accountable that allowed misconduct to occur and go undetected for some time.”
Those largely confirmed the dynamics that allowed ex-cop Anthony Arevalos, who’s serving eight years for multiple felonies and misdemeanors related to sexual misconduct, to slip through the department’s cracks despite a host of red flags.
In September, the city agreed to pay $5.9 million in a settlement with one of Arevalos’ victims, twice the amount paid to his 12 other victims combined, though no additional oversight or department reforms came from that agreement.
Since replacing former Chief William Lansdowne, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman has taken steps to get rid of a potential “code of silence” that might be protecting wayward officers. We rounded those up late last year:
• All officers now have to report the misconduct of their colleagues.
• The department is outfitting patrol officers with body cameras.
• An internal misconduct investigative unit disbanded by Lansdowne has been restarted.
SDPD spokesman Scott Wahl referred to many of these efforts in a statement he provided to us.
“Chief Zimmerman has tackled issues head on and has not swept anything under the rug,” Wahl said.
But Zimmerman also has made it difficult to know how well these reforms are working. She created a body camera policy that leaves public disclosure of camera videos up to her discretion, something it’s clear might only happen in extreme circumstances. Wahl said that Zimmerman would be providing an update on reforms recommended by the federal review at a Council committee hearing next month.
Correction: This story initially incorrectly listed the number of SDPD lawsuits settled by the city.