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Last year, Anthony Arevalos arrested more than 80 people as an officer for the San Diego Police Department. On Thursday, the state handcuffed him.
A jury convicted Arevalos, a married father of two, of soliciting sexual bribes from five women during downtown traffic stops between September 2009 and March 2011.
After hearing the first guilty verdict, Arevalos closed his eyes and sunk his head down. News reporters scribbled on pads of paper and photographers captured the moment: An ex-cop would be going to jail.
Arevalos didn’t say a word. He faced away from the cameras, stretched in his black pinstriped suit and put his hands behind his back for a nearby sheriff’s deputy. Two metallic twists and Arevalos was off to spend the first of many nights behind bars.
The verdicts against Arevalos came Thursday afternoon after three weeks of courtroom testimony and nearly a week of jury deliberations. He had pleaded not guilty to 21 felony charges of soliciting bribes, sexual battery and false imprisonment.
The jury acquitted him of eight charges, lowered four charges to misdemeanors and couldn’t reach a verdict on another. His maximum possible prison sentence fell from 21 years to about 10 and a half.
And while that verdict will play as tonight’s top story, his conviction punctuates a months-long misconduct scandal that rattled the San Diego Police Department earlier this year. A spike in serious allegations spurred a public apology from Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who acknowledged lagging internal oversight.
In May, the Police Department acknowledged 11 investigations with the allegations against its officers ranging in severity from off-duty drunk driving to on-duty rape. Prosecutors filed criminal charges against five officers.
But Arevalos’ case stood out. He was accused of numerous on-duty crimes over an extended period. Most other officers were accused of off-duty conduct and isolated incidents.
The Police Department also had numerous signs of Arevalos being a possible bad apple. He was known to arrest an unusually high number of women on suspicion of drunk driving and violated numerous policies while an officer.
Court testimony showed Arevalos shared lewd photos with fellow officers and boasted about the attractiveness of the women he pulled over. Because he carted so many women to jail, officers dubbed him “the Las Colinas transport unit.”
One officer told prosecutors that Arevalos had downloaded up-skirt photos from a fellow officer’s investigative case files while the officer wasn’t looking. Arevalos kept the pictures on his cell phone, the officer said.
In February 2010, a woman also filed a complaint against Arevalos accusing him of sexual assault. Though police recommended criminal charges against Arevalos, the department sent him back to patrol after prosecutors declined to press charges.
Throughout his trial, which began Oct. 17, Arevalos’ attorneys argued that the women who testified against him were too intoxicated, emotional or vengeful during traffic stops to accurately recall what happened. Alcohol tests showed some of the women had too much alcohol in their systems to legally drive.
Seven women accused him of soliciting sexual bribes during downtown traffic stops between September 2009 and March 2011. Three of the woman also said Arevalos sexually assaulted them.
The jury’s decisions backed up five of the women in the case. Two of them had complained to police officers about inappropriate behavior before Arevalos’ arrest.
The first woman’s complaint in September 2009 didn’t reach detectives who investigate officer misconduct. The second one did and spurred the investigation that unraveled the most widespread case of officer misconduct at the San Diego Police Department in the last decade.
One of the seven women attended the verdict announcement Thursday, but declined to comment afterward. In her case, the jury found Arevalos guilty of two felonies and one misdemeanor, but couldn’t reach a verdict on a fourth charge of sexual battery by restraint.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser ruled a mistrial on that one charge. The jury of five men and seven women said it had been deadlocked 10-2.
After hearing the verdict, Arevalos’ attorney, Gretchen von Helms, asked Fraser to allow the 18-year police veteran to remain out of custody until his sentencing Dec. 19. Fraser refused, citing the serious nature of the felony convictions and Arevalos’ background in law enforcement.
Von Helms said after the hearing that she was pleased with the verdict because it cut Arevalos’ maximum possible sentence in half. She said Arevalos was extremely remorseful and wished to apologize to the victims and their families.
Prosecutor Sherry Thompson said she was disappointed the jury didn’t believe two of the women’s allegations but was ecstatic about convictions for the other five. She also said the case sends a message about police misconduct.
“No one is above the law and everyone will be held to a standard,” Thompson said at a brief press conference after the court hearing.
In a statement late Thursday, Lansdowne echoed that sentiment. He commended the alleged victims for coming forward and supported the jury’s verdict.
“This case brought a black mark of discredit upon all law enforcement and because of it, we have implemented new procedures to uncover and deal with allegations of misconduct,” Lansdowne said. “I have been receiving updates on a daily basis on this case, but we will conduct a thorough review of the transcripts to ensure that this type of tragedy does not occur again in the San Diego Police Department.”
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