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Months before police began investigating Anthony Arevalos on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in the back of his squad car, he cleared a different criminal probe.

Federal authorities looked into allegations that Arevalos lied on gun registration forms at the American Shooting Center, a firearms store in Kearny Mesa. Marc Halcon, who owns the business, said he told investigators that a store manager identified a possible “straw purchase” involving Arevalos and refused to complete the transaction.

A straw purchase is essentially the crime of lying on gun registration forms. The classic example is the woman who buys a gun for her boyfriend, who she knows is a convicted felon and can’t legally buy a gun himself. The penalty runs up to a few years in prison, depending on the circumstances.

The case marks at least the second time in two years that police knew of a criminal investigation involving Arevalos before ultimately firing him for the current allegations logged in March of this year.

In February 2010, a woman told police Arevalos sexually assaulted her in the back of his squad car. Police recommended charges to prosecutors after the complaint but returned Arevalos to work when prosecutors rejected the case. Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, however, has told the Union-Tribune that he didn’t think at the time that a crime had been committed.

Police arrested and fired Arevalos this year after receiving a second sexual assault complaint. He now faces charges of sexually assaulting or soliciting sexual bribes from seven women. He’s pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. If convicted of all charges, Arevalos faces up to 21 years in prison.

So far, there has been contrary information about how much police knew before the March complaint. A search warrant in the case says Arevalos had a well known history of police misconduct. But Lansdowne has said police hadn’t identified a pattern of criminal wrongdoing until after the second sexual assault complaint this year.

At the gun store, Halcon said Arevalos and another man wanted to buy a gun but a store manager refused to make the transaction because he suspected it was a straw purchase. He didn’t say why. In an interview, Halcon said the officers left the store but Arevalos later returned and called the store racist and anti-cop. Halcon dismissed the allegations, saying he is Hispanic and often testifies for law enforcement as a firearms expert.


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“He said we were blacklisted so no other police officers would come to us,” Halcon said. “At San Diego PD, he said he works closely with ATF and DOJ and they could be called to do an inspection at a moment’s notice.”

But Arevalos didn’t work closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees federal gun laws. Arevalos had been a traffic cop with the San Diego Police Department since 2007.

However, the ATF did become involved in the case. It started investigating Arevalos on suspicion of making a straw purchase. Christian Hoffman, a spokesman for the regional ATF office, declined to say how investigators became aware of the incident. Halcon said he was in contact with San Diego police and the ATF after the incident.

Arevalos told a different story through his attorney, Gretchen von Helms. Arevalos said he went to the store with a friend to buy a hunting gun. He said the manager refused to allow the purchase, saying, “I’m not selling guns to Iranians.” Arevalos is Hispanic and his friend is of Middle-Eastern descent.

The friend identified to the manager that Arevalos was a police officer and the manager apologized, von Helms said. Then Arevalos and his friend left, both feeling discriminated against. The store concocted the story about the straw purchase, von Helms said, to protect itself in a possible lawsuit.

After interviews and seeing store surveillance video of the incident, Hoffman said ATF investigators decided to drop their inquiry of Arevalos. A straw purchase only happens when the store completes the illegal transaction, Hoffman said. Since the manager at Halcon’s store refused to make a transaction, no crime could have occurred. Hoffman said federal prosecutors reviewed the case and agreed.

Though federal authorities found no crime, they notified the San Diego Police Department of the investigation. Police spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said the department then initiated an internal affairs investigation to gauge whether Arevalos’ conduct violated policy.

Brown refused to explain what happened next, calling it a personnel matter and therefore confidential. Von Helms said the Police Department’s investigation found no violations of internal policy and Arevalos wasn’t disciplined.

“They took no action against him at all,” von Helms said. “It certainly means that police at the time didn’t give any credence to this guy’s claims.”

Police records show Arevalos continued the same assignment as a traffic cop after the incident. Seven months later, Arevalos and his family filed for bankruptcy and in the filings, he listed $112,000 in credit card debt and $10,000 of possible income from a future defamation lawsuit involving American Shooting Center — Halcon’s business.

Arevalos hasn’t filed a lawsuit against the store, but Halcon said he wouldn’t be worried about battling Arevalos before a jury these days. “Obviously this guy’s a loose cannon,” Halcon said. “We’re not law enforcement here, but our job is to make sure customers are treated fairly.”

I’m interested in knowing more about other people’s experiences with Arevalos, especially if they involved a formal complaint. What happened and how did the Police Department respond?

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog.

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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