Editor’s Note: Judge Jeffrey Fraser has since said our interpretation of his quote that “Everybody in the Police Department knew about this” was incorrect. We’ve published this explanation, and we apologize. 

Testimony in the ongoing trial of former San Diego Police officer Anthony Arevalos has made it increasingly clear that numerous officers had signs he was acting unprofessionally long before he was arrested in March and charged with soliciting sexual bribes during traffic stops.

But despite that knowledge inside the Police Department, Arevalos continued to patrol downtown San Diego for drunk drivers. Prosecutors say that enabled him to continue soliciting sexual bribes from the women he stopped.

More details emerged Thursday about Arevalos’ actions around his former colleagues and added to mounting questions about the effectiveness of internal oversight in the department. He’s been charged with 21 felonies and faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted. Arevalos has pleaded not guilty.

During a brief conference outside the presence of the jury, prosecutor Sherry Thompson revealed that a San Diego Police traffic officer, Freddie Thornton, had approached a detective on Oct. 31 and offered new information in the case.

Thompson urged the judge, Jeffrey Fraser, to allow Thornton to take the stand, even though the trial started two weeks ago. She said Thornton would testify about three incidents that would exemplify Arevalos’ treatment of women.

Thornton’s accounts of Arevalos’ inappropriate behavior didn’t involve any of the incidents in the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors, but rather what the officer had witnessed himself. Thompson argued the testimony should be heard to demonstrate Arevalos’ pattern of behavior, which the judge had previously allowed.

Six to eight months before Arevalos’ arrest, Thompson said, Thornton saw Arevalos hold up a dark- colored thong while unloading the trunk of his squad car. Thornton told Arevalos, “I don’t even want to know what you’re doing,” and moved on, Thompson said.

Then, around the same time, Thornton assisted Arevalos on a traffic stop involving a woman wearing a green dress. He said Arevalos made a “dirty little grin” and was “all over the woman.” The whole scene made Thornton uncomfortable and he told Arevalos: “I’m not covering you on any more stops. I’m not going to lose my job,” Thompson said.

Separate of those two incidents, Thornton said Arevalos had told him he kept up-skirt photos on his phone, the prosecutor said. Arevalos told Thornton that he got the photos by taking pictures of a fellow officer’s investigative case files while the officer wasn’t looking, Thompson said.

The judge asked Thompson why Thornton hadn’t previously reported the three incidents to prosecutors or his supervisors. Thompson said she wasn’t sure, but would likely ask those questions if the officer was allowed to testify.

But Fraser denied Thompson’s request. He said it was too late in the trial to bring in a new witness and questioned whether the testimony would add anything new about the criminal allegations. Several police officers and investigators have already testified that Arevalos repeatedly violated department policies.

“Let’s face it. Everybody in the Police Department knew about this,” the judge said while explaining his ruling. “He wasn’t living in a cave and then they turned on the TV.”

Thornton’s account was the latest to add to concerns about how much the Police Department knew of the allegations prosecutors have made against Arevalos while he was on duty.

A detective testified last week that a woman 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.

Prosecutors also said last week that Arevalos sent lewd pictures to a fellow traffic officer from his work computer. The officer testified in the trial, but didn’t talk about the pictures because Fraser ruled the topic was irrelevant to the criminal charges.

I was unable to reach Thornton for comment Thursday. Paul Cooper, a legal and policy adviser to Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, declined to comment. Cooper said the Police Department won’t comment on any concerns about internal oversight that come out of the trial until its completion.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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