Is the "thin blue line" eroding in America's Finest City?

SDPD Encouraged "Unwritten Policy" of Misconduct: Lawsuit

The lawsuit is filed against the city of San Diego and former Officer Christopher Hays

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A new lawsuit filed against the San Diego Police Department claims the department enforced an “unwritten policy” that encouraged police misconduct and led to scandals involving former officers Anthony Arevalos and Christopher Hays. NBC 7's Candice Nguyen reports.

    The San Diego Police Department enforced an “unwritten policy” that encouraged police misconduct and led to scandals involving former officers Anthony Arevalos and Christopher Hays, a new lawsuit against the department alleges.

    The suit was filed Wednesday by three of Hays’ alleged victims against the former officer and the city of San Diego.

    In the 21-page document, attorneys outline the allegations against Hays, including forced oral copulation, masturbating in front of a woman and a suspicious traffic stop.

    The lawsuit also tries to establish a pattern of misconduct by listing sexual assault accusations levied at Arevalos since 1999.

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    “That’s why we went back so far, to show the City of San Diego created this mess,” said attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents the alleged victims in the lawsuit.

    Arevalos was convicted of eight counts of sexual battery, assault and asking for bribes in 2011, though a judge later threw out two of the convictions.

    The lawsuit claims officers felt they could get away with such inappropriate behavior after former SDPD Chief William Lansdowne and other officials disbanded the anti-corruption unit called the Professional Standards Unit (PSU) around 2003.

    “The elimination of the PSU, this specialized unit, was a signal and affirmation to the SDPD, its police officers and its supervisory officials that those police officers who chose to exploit their positions of power, authority and trust by victimizing members of the very community they had sworn to protect would not be investigated, prosecuted, pursued or punished for their actions,” the lawsuit reads.

    As an example, the court document claims another officer reported to his supervisors that Arevalos had taken Polaroid pictures of a nude, mentally disabled woman, taunting her to pose in a lewd manner with his baton.

    Instead of punishing Arevalos or reporting the incident up the chain of command, the lawsuit claims his superiors instead destroyed the pictures and evidence of the incident and intimidated the officer who had reported it.

    The lawsuit says the alleged cover-up is part of a “long-standing, unwritten SDPD policy that encouraged a two-tiered system of justice.”

    That system includes laws that apply to ordinary citizens and a set of privileges and immunities that apply to SDPD officers and other members of the law enforcement community, according to the suit.

    Additionally, the SDPD is accused of instituting a process that prevented the public from lodging complaints against officers directly with the internal affairs unit.

    Despite Lansdowne’s promises for reform directly after Arevalos’ conviction, the suit says things remained unchanged at the SDPD.

    Gilleon said that compared to Arevalos, Hays was more of a sexual predator. The lawsuit claims Hays went through the police academy and a field training officer determined he "was unfit to be a SDPD police officer and he should be 'washed out' and not hired."

    Still, Hays went on to join the department. Hays’ father-in-law is SDPD Captain and now Assistant Chief Mark Jones. Gilleon claims Jones made sure Hays passed the academy by getting “a favor from the person in charge.”

     

    The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the city, though the attorney for the alleged victims says two of his clients’ claims are worth more than $1 million.

    In response to NBC 7’s request for comment, SDPD Lt. Kevin Mayer released the following statement:

    "It would be inappropriate for me to provide comments as there is pending civil litigation and a federal investigation. In addition, PERF is conducting an independent review of the Department as previously discussed at a press conference by Chief Zimmerman.”

    NBC 7 has reached out to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the FBI to see if there iss any new information on their independent investigations into the department. Calls have not been returned.

    The city attorney’s office had no comment.