Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle
Shelley Zimmerman, who was sworn in as police chief Tuesday, supports an audit of the police department.
Even after the 2011 arrest of disgraced former cop Anthony Arevalos, the San Diego Police Department held back a criminal investigation into his conduct, an investigator with the district attorney’s office said in court papers.
DA investigator Susan Rodriguez, who worked the Arevalos case, said SDPD brass refused to execute a search warrant on Arevalos’ home despite multiple requests from prosecutors. The DA’s office finally searched Arevalos’ home more than a month after his arrest. Prosecutors didn’t find anything, she said, and they worried evidence had been lost.
“The prosecutor wanted stuff done. It wasn’t done,” Rodriguez said in a 2013 deposition. “You’re never hindered. And this was the first time in my now 28 years in law enforcement that I’d ever seen anything like that.”
Rodriguez’s statement comes from papers filed in a civil lawsuit from Arevalos’ final victim, a 32-year-old woman known in court papers as Jane Doe. In late 2011, Arevalos was found guilty of soliciting sexual bribes from five women, including Doe. For years, SDPD supervisors had failed to fully investigate Arevalos despite repeated instances of sexual misbehavior, documents from the Doe lawsuit have revealed.
That pattern continued even after Arevalos had been arrested, Rodriguez said. She focused on Rudy Tai, who was in charge of the sex crimes unit that was investigating Arevalos.
While preparing for Arevalos’ trial, prosecutors interviewed Francisco Torres, an ex-cop who had worked with Arevalos. Torres told the district attorney’s office he witnessed and reported serious sexual misconduct involving Arevalos and a woman with mental disabilities in the late 1990s. Tai was Arevalos’ supervisor at the time, and Torres said Tai did nothing.
Rodriguez was concerned Tai had attempted to cover up the incident, she said in her deposition. The district attorney’s office never attempted to confirm what happened with Tai or SDPD because they didn’t want to spark an internal investigation and believed they could prosecute Arevalos for his crimes without relying on the 1990s incident, she said. Rodriguez also indicated she believed Tai was the one who had thwarted the search of Arevalos’ home, though she had no proof.
In his deposition from the Doe case, Tai said he gave Arevalos a verbal warning after he admitted to flirting with the woman, but didn’t recall being told about the more serious allegations and would have acted on them had he known. Tai, a lieutenant, heads the department’s criminal intelligence unit and is one of two officers who directly reports to the police chief, according to the most recent SDPD organizational chart.
In an email to Voice of San Diego, SDPD spokesman Kevin Mayer emphasized that Rodriguez never tried to corroborate the Torres incident or her suspicions with Tai or SDPD.
He also noted that the sex crimes unit under Tai’s oversight led the investigation that resulted in Arevalos’ arrest and conviction. Mayer didn’t respond to a question about why SDPD didn’t search Arevalos’ home.
Doe’s lawyers are arguing SDPD has a culture of tolerating officer misconduct. They want a court-ordered independent monitor to oversee the department. Newly retired Police Chief William Lansdowne has said a monitor isn’t necessary and proposed an outside audit of the department’s handling of officer misconduct cases instead. Lansdowne’s replacement, Shelley Zimmerman, has committed to doing the outside audit.
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