It took 18 months for San Diego police detective James Clark to connect the dots between a woman’s complaint of police misconduct and his former colleague, Anthony Arevalos.
Clark, who testified Wednesday during Arevalos’ ongoing trial, said a woman complained to him in September 2009 that an officer had stopped her in downtown San Diego, accused her of driving drunk and solicited a favor in exchange for letting her go. The detective told the woman, who worked with one of his friends, to contact the department’s Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates officer misconduct.
But Clark didn’t report the complaint himself, neither to internal affairs nor his superiors at the Police Department. He didn’t explain why. The woman didn’t report it, either, saying she feared she’d be charged with drunk driving in retaliation.
It wasn’t until Arevalos was arrested in March 2011 and charged with soliciting a sexual favor during a different downtown traffic stop that Clark investigated the woman’s complaint further. He identified Arevalos as the officer who stopped her.
Arevalos, now on trial, is charged with 21 felony counts of soliciting sexual bribes or sexually assaulting seven women while on duty. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison.
Until this week, the first complaint police acknowledged against Arevalos was one lodged in February 2010. A woman said Arevalos sexually assaulted her while transporting her to jail. Police investigated that complaint and recommended prosecutors bring charges. The District Attorney’s Office declined and the Police Department sent Arevalos back to the streets.
But testimony this week from the woman and Clark shows that a complaint made months earlier wasn’t investigated, raising more questions about how the department monitors its own officers, who wield tremendous power and discretion.
In an interview late Wednesday, Asst. Police Chief Boyd Long said it’s unclear whether Clark should have reported the woman’s 2009 complaint. He said department policy requires officers to report complaints they receive about other officers’ misconduct. But he said he wasn’t certain how the policy applies to confidential conversations. If the woman told Clark not to report the conversation, for example, Long said he didn’t know whether department policy would have still required Clark to do so.
“I would hope that any officer faced with that would come forward,” Long said, after hearing about Clark’s testimony. But he added, “That might be one of those gray areas.”
Neither the woman nor Clark testified that their conversation was confidential.
Clark, a 24-year veteran who currently serves in the department’s narcotics unit, said Wednesday that he’d called the woman at the request of a friend, who worked with the woman at a downtown restaurant. Clark said he made the call off-duty and not as part of an official investigation. He recalled the woman saying the officer “wanted something from her” during the traffic stop.
“I remember thinking the officer was unprofessional, that he was trying to pick her up,” Clark testified in court Wednesday. “She was vague about it.”
Clark said the woman didn’t name the officer, identify the agency he worked for or explain what kind of bribe the officer wanted. Still, he suggested the woman contact the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, which investigates officer misconduct.
“That was pretty much it,” he testified. “In 2009, all I did was give her advice to call internal affairs.”
Prosecutors now say Arevalos solicited a sexual bribe from the woman in September 2009 as well as six other women during traffic stops since then.
Clark said he reexamined the complaint after news of Arevalos’ arrest in March this year. He tracked down internal police records and confirmed that Arevalos had indeed pulled the woman over in September 2009. At that point, Clark said he notified his supervisors.
He said it would have been laborious to conduct the same analysis in 2009 with the information he had.
“It would have taken a lot of research without a name,” he testified. “It’s possible. It could have been done.”
Arevalos’ case is the most prominent in a police misconduct scandal that shook the San Diego Police Department earlier this year. The department acknowledged 11 investigations involving its officers, with the severity of the allegations ranging from off-duty drunken driving to on-duty rape.
Unlike the other officers involved in the scandal, Arevalos is accused of repeated on-duty misconduct spanning several years. Prosecutors say he solicited sexual bribes or sexually assaulted seven women between September 2009 and March 2011. Each other officer has been accused of a single incident.
The charges against Arevalos have also raised the most serious questions about internal police oversight, which Police Chief Bill Lansdowne acknowledged as lagging and pledged to address after the scandal broke.
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