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As the criminal trial of former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos continues, more details about what the Police Department knew about him are coming into public view for the first time.
The latest revelation landed Thursday during a brief conference between a San Diego Superior Court judge, prosecutor Sherry Thompson and Arevalos’ lawyers.
Thompson told Judge Jeffrey Fraser that investigators had found photographs of scantily dressed women on Arevalos’ work computer. She said Arevalos took the pictures while patrolling downtown San Diego in December last year and then emailed them to another traffic officer in the Police Department.
It echoed a tip that investigators reported receiving shortly after Arevalos’ arrest in March this year. According to an unsealed search warrant in the case, a person who knew Arevalos told investigators that the officer had a well-known history of police misconduct and kept lewd photos of women he met during the course of his job. The person said they last saw the photos 15 years ago.
Thompson’s new evidence presented Thursday showed that Arevalos had shared similar photos with at least one San Diego Police Department officer more recently. She didn’t say whether Arevalos had sent the photos to other officers as well and she didn’t describe similar incidents at other times.
The revelation added to the questions raised this week about whether the Police Department knew of the allegations that prosecutors have made about Arevalos while he was on duty. Detective James Clark testified Wednesday that a woman informally complained to him that an officer had solicited a favor from her during a September 2009 traffic stop. More than a year later, he discovered the woman was referring to Arevalos and relayed her complaint to his superiors.
Though Clark advised the woman to contact the department’s internal affairs about the incident, he testified that he didn’t do that himself.
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. Arevalos faces 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.
On Thursday, Thompson discussed the photos in the conference — not in front of the jury — because she wanted to call the traffic officer who received them to testify. But Arevalos’ attorneys argued that the pictures weren’t relevant to the allegations against Arevalos and shouldn’t be mentioned to the jury.
None of the pictures discussed Thursday showed any of the seven alleged victims in the case, Thompson said. She argued to the judge that they showed Arevalos’ obsession with attractive young women.
The judge sided with Arevalos’ attorneys. He said the pictures weren’t relevant to proving whether Arevalos committed specific crimes and weren’t admissible as evidence at this time. They could come into the trial later, he said, depending on further testimony and evidence.
“The fact is he’s interested in women. There’s no question about that,” the judge said. “He might be the world’s biggest chauvinist pig, but that’s not what he’s on trial for.”
Though she couldn’t bring up the pictures Thursday, Thompson still called the officer who received them, Kazimierz Lewak, to the stand. It isn’t clear whether Lewak reported the photos to his supervisors. He didn’t talk about them during his testimony.
Court records show Lewak assisted Arevalos on a December 2010 traffic stop involving one of the seven women. She is not being identified because she is the alleged victim of a sex crime.
The woman testified in court Wednesday that Arevalos pulled her over and accused her of drunk driving. She was 20 years old at the time and a breath test showed alcohol in her system. Because the state has a zero tolerance policy for minors, Arevalos started writing her a citation, she said.
But he kept pausing while writing the ticket, she testified, and repeatedly indicated that having sex with him could make the ticket go away. He talked about going to a nearby dark corner for half an hour or going to the backseat of his squad car for 15 minutes, she said.
“He definitely agreed to finding a way to get me out of the situation,” she testified.
When Lewak arrived at the scene to assist Arevalos with the traffic stop, the woman testified that Arevalos said, “Well, the deal’s up.”
“It was my first instinct to scream out for help,” the woman testified, “but I bit my tongue because he (Lewak) could be on his side. I didn’t know if that would get me in deeper trouble.”
Lewak, a 17-year department veteran, testified that he didn’t recall any conversations he might have had with Arevalos or the woman at the traffic stop that night. He only recounted basic details, like pouring out a bottle of vodka and seeing a completed ticket on the hood of a car.
“Safe to say this wasn’t a big deal to your career as a police officer?” the judge inquired during a moment of pause.
“Yes, back then,” Lewak said.
The woman said she wanted to press criminal charges against Arevalos after the incident but didn’t because a lawyer advised her to appeal the drunken driving ticket first. After Arevalos’ arrest in March this year, the woman said she contacted police about her traffic stop.
Arevalos’ trial continues Monday.
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