San Diego swore in a new police chief last week, and it took about two days for a scandal with 20-year-old roots to explode in the department.
In late 2011, former cop Anthony Arevalos was convicted of sexual battery against 13 women over a period of months. He was sentenced to eight years in jail. The first complaint against him surfaced publicly in March 2011, but testimony in a civil lawsuit against the city this year suggests that police officials knew about Arevalos' assaults dating back 20 years and hid it from prosecutors and the public.
The first allegation against Arevalos came in February 2010 from a woman who said the officer sexually assaulted her. The district attorney declined to file charges in that case, but prosecutors said another woman complained eight months later that Arevalos groped her during a traffic stop. In between the two incidents, the officer continued his behavior.
Arevalos' career ended in March 2011 when he was accused of another assault at a traffic stop. The department fired him and criminal prosecution began. Questions were raised then why Arevalos hadn't been confronted earlier about the string of complaints, but it wasn't until last week that information surfaced that knowledge of the officer's criminal behavior went much further back.
In closed-door testimony in 2012 concerning a civil suit by the 13th victim, former officer Francisco Torres described an alleged 1997 assault in which his partner, Arevalos, forced a woman to have sex with herself using his baton. “He has his Polaroid out and when I got there the female was in the backseat again naked with her handcuffs in front of her and she had the baton.”
“This all could have been stopped years ago,” Torres testified under oath. The ex-officer said he told his superiors about the incident but court records indicated the allegations were not reported to internal affairs, according to the ABC news affiliate in San Diego.
DA investigator Susan Rodriguez told a Voice of San Diego reporter last month that top officials within the police department refused to cooperate with her office after Arevalos was finally arrested. She said they wouldn't conduct a search of Arevalos' home and by the time the DA got access a month later, they feared evidence had been removed.
“This was the first time in my now 28 years in law enforcement that I’d ever seen anything like that,” Rodriguez said in a sworn 2013 deposition. Rodriguez said she suspected that Arevalos' direct superior, Rudy Tai, blocked the search but had no evidence. Tai, who heads the department’s criminal intelligence unit and reports directly to the chief, testified that Arevalos admitted to flirting with women he stopped and was told to cut it out.
Lawyers for the 13th victim want a court-ordered independent monitor appointed to oversee the department. Former Chief William Lansdowne was not receptive to the request, and so far neither is his successor, Shelley Zimmerman. Both favor an outside audit restricted to department handling of misconduct cases.