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Whether manufactured or genuine, tears filled Department 37 at the city’s downtown courthouse this morning.
Tears of remorse from Anthony Arevalos, the former San Diego police officer convicted of soliciting sexual bribes from five women while on duty, and tears of pain from one of his victims.
Arevalos’ attorney wept after a woman who testified against her client expressed forgiveness. Arevalos’ prosecutor cried after all the television cameras had finally left the courtroom.
Those tears, prosecutor Sherry Thompson said, were an expression of relief. After nearly a year of investigation, court proceedings and media scrutiny, one of San Diego’s biggest scandals fell off her plate.
Judge Jeffrey Fraser sentenced Arevalos to serve eight years and eight months in state prison, nearly matching Thompson’s request. Arevalos will be eligible for parole after serving half that time and upon release, must register as a sex offender.
At the hearing, Arevalos addressed the court for the first time and pleaded for mercy. He repeatedly apologized to his five victims, his family, the Police Department and the public.
“I will pray for their forgiveness,” he said, cheeks reddened and swollen from an onslaught of tears. “I’m sorry for destroying the public trust … I’m overcome with guilt with the choices I’ve made in the past.”
Arevalos’ attorney, Gretchen von Helms, had asked the judge to award probation instead of a prison sentence. She said Arevalos’ 9-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter needed their father, and his wife couldn’t find work to support their family.
After three months in jail awaiting his sentencing, Arevalos now understands his wrongdoings and would no longer be a threat to society, von Helms argued.
Throughout the trial, it was unknown why Arevalos acted the way he did. His attorneys argued it was an expression of financial and domestic stress. Prosecutors argued he preyed on women for sexual gratification or as an expression of power.
“He is broken, I assure you,” von Helms said at the court hearing Friday. “I go to visit him and he can barely speak. He just starts weeping. He’s clearly not powerful.”
Von Helms said several officers felt the maximum possible sentence of 10 years and four months would be too steep. After the hearing, she said those officers didn’t attend the hearing and testify on Arevalos’ behalf because they believe police would’ve retaliated against them.
Throughout the hearing, the attorneys battled over using Arevalos’ case as a vehicle for sending a message to other police officers. Von Helms said most cops are good and don’t need a public reminder. Thompson urged Fraser to make an example of Arevalos to ensure public trust in the criminal justice system.
One victim appeared at the hearing and urged the maximum possible sentence. She said Arevalos had terrorized women behind a badge and gun, and she now cries herself to sleep several nights a week.
“That type of person is a person who should be feared because he fears nothing but himself,” she said of Arevalos. “Send a message that this behavior is intolerable.”
The woman who ultimately led to Arevalos’ downfall at the Police Department wrote a letter to Fraser, which Thompson read out loud. More than anyone else, the woman argued a message needed to be sent to police.
“I no longer have faith in a police officers’ ability to keep me and my loved ones safe,” she wrote. “I fear that there may be more officers like him. I fear there are more predators in the Police Department who remain unchecked.”
The woman said the department needed a wakeup call because Arevalos’ “sadistic games were known to other officers and they looked away.”
Police Chief Bill Lansdowne applauded the sentencing in a statement following the hearing and promised his department would overcome Arevalos’ complete violation of the public trust.
“As difficult as this has been for the San Diego Police Department, I believe we have emerged a stronger and more resilient organization,” Lansdowne wrote. “The San Diego Police Department will continue to serve this community with the same professionalism and excellence the citizens have come to know and will work tirelessly to restore any trust that may have been lost.”
During the trial, fellow officers testified that Arevalos had a reputation for arresting an unusually high number of women and bragging about their attractiveness. Despite that knowledge, Arevalos continued patrolling the city’s streets alone.
Only briefly, Thompson weighed in on Arevalos’ case in a bigger scope of misconduct at the Police Department. Though the case is part of a recent spike in police misconduct, she argued the judge should hold Arevalos accountable for his actions, not the department as a whole.
“It is not the people’s intention to punish Mr. Arevalos for the sins of the department,” she said. “This is not a widespread epidemic. This is an isolated officer who used and abused his authority.”
The judge at least agreed with her latter point. After listing Arevalos’ eight felony and four misdemeanor convictions, Fraser simply stated, “That’s a crooked cop and crooked cops go to prison.”
As Arevalos shuffled out of courtroom in blue jail attire, orange sandals and shackles, the tears continued to roll down his cheeks.
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