On Thursday, during the criminal trial of former San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos, San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser appeared to make a startling declaration about the Police Department.

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

I’ve been attending the trial to learn what the Police Department knew about Arevalos before his arrest and I interpreted Fraser’s statement as a description of the department’s knowledge of Arevalos’ unprofessional behavior. Fraser made it while talking about a witness who prosecutors said would testify about Arevalos acting inappropriately.

The witness, traffic officer Freddie Thornton, told prosecutors about three separate incidents: Arevalos once pulled a thong from the trunk of his squad car, flirted with a woman during a traffic stop and downloaded lewd photos from investigative files without permission.

Fraser didn’t allow Thornton to take the stand Thursday. He said prosecutors had already provided enough testimony and evidence showing similar unprofessional conduct and Thornton came forward too late in the trial.

On Friday, after we published Fraser’s statement, the judge clarified his comments during a bench conference outside the presence of the jury. Though Fraser didn’t refer to me in the courtroom, he said my interpretation was wrong.

The judge had made his statement while questioning both why the officer hadn’t come forward sooner and whether his testimony would add new information. Our story gave the impression he was referring to the latter.

But Fraser said he was referring to why it took so long for Thornton to step forward. Fraser had questioned why Thornton didn’t approach prosecutors before this week and noted that he had the opportunity because the investigation was big news in the Police Department and on television.

Fraser made it clear that he wasn’t saying the Police Department knew about the criminal allegations before this year. With one exception, he said: A detective who received a complaint two years ago and didn’t report it.

We regret misinterpreting the judge’s statement. The quote was used low in the story, but became the headline. It also was featured prominently in the Morning Report. We’ve updated both with a link to this explanation.

After Fraser’s clarification, prosecutor Sherry Thompson and Arevalos’ attorneys rehashed a discussion about whether the department’s knowledge of any prior allegations should be allowed into the trial. Fraser has so far called it irrelevant.

“I really want to focus on what’s at issue in this trial,” Fraser said again. “I don’t want to try the civil suit.”

Six women have filed civil claims against the city seeking more than $8.1 million. Some argue the department was negligent in supervising Arevalos.

In the criminal trial, Arevalos faces 21 felony charges of soliciting sexual bribes or sexually assaulting seven women between September 2009 and March 2011. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison.

Arevalos’ attorneys have opposed bringing information about the Police Department’s prior knowledge while Thompson has pushed for it. After Fraser clarified his comments, one of Arevalos’ attorneys, Gretchen von Helms, cheered his decision and said the department knew nothing of the allegations.

Thompson responded, “That’s a bit of a stretch.” Thompson said the department didn’t know about the alleged victims in the case but would not concede that the department knew nothing about any allegations against Arevalos.

One 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 then relayed her complaint to his superiors.

Thompson also said that during the course of the police investigation, detectives had found evidence that “may show there were other allegations.” But she didn’t elaborate.

Arevalos’ trial is scheduled to continue Monday.

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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