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Former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos faced four of his seven accusers in court last week and heard each one testify that he had solicited sexual bribes from them during late-night downtown traffic stops.
Though the incidents happened months or even years ago, each woman appeared anxious sitting before Arevalos. He watched them with a stoic face and whispered intermittently to his trial attorneys.
So far, the prosecution’s case against Arevalos has relied heavily on the credibility of the women. They’ve described what they recall Arevalos saying during the traffic stops without any physical evidence to back it up.
Arevalos’ attorneys have tried to poke holes in the case by attacking the women’s stories. They’ve argued the women were either too intoxicated, emotional or vengeful that night to accurately recall what happened.
Whether the women are telling the truth will be up for the 15-member jury to decide. My main objective while attending Arevalos’ trial has been to learn more about internal oversight at the Police Department.
Authorities have declined to answer major questions about the case, their past decisions and the supervision of officers. Police have also refused to release Arevalos’ emails, citing the ongoing investigation.
But some insights about those questions and his emails have come out in court, in a case that has raised the most serious concerns about lagging internal oversight following a misconduct scandal that rattled the department earlier this year. Police acknowledged 11 investigations against officers with the allegations ranging in severity from off-duty drunken driving to on-duty rape.
Of the group, Arevalos’ case is the most prominent. He’s charged with committing 21 felonies over two years and could be sentenced up to 21 years in prison if convicted.
The big question: Given the span of the allegations, what did police know about Arevalos while he continued to patrol San Diego’s streets? A couple of new details trickled out during testimony last week.
• On Wednesday, Detective James Clark testified 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. In an interview, a top Police Department official said it’s unclear whether Clark should have reported it in 2009.
• On Thursday, prosecutor Sherry Thompson said 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.
Though she wasn’t allowed to present the pictures to the jury 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.
Arevalos’ trial is scheduled to continue Monday. I’m planning to attend and will continue listening for more information about internal oversight at the Police Department. Stay tuned to this blog and my Twitter feed, @keegankyle.
In the meantime, I recommend checking out this reader’s guide to the Police Department’s misconduct scandal and this overview of the Arevalos’ case. You may also be interested in this profile of Police Chief Bill Lansdowne’s history of dealing with controversy.
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