Deposition of former police chief is a revealing look inside SDPD sex crimes case

SAN DIEGO - Team 10 obtained a seven-hour video deposition by former police chief William Lansdowne in connection with a lawsuit filed against the city by a woman the public knows only as “Jane Doe.”

Lansdowne appears calm and at times indifferent when answering questions on how the police department operates when it comes to internal investigations.

The video deposition covers everything from former officer Anthony Arevalos’ time with the sex crimes unit, his transfer from plain clothes to patrol, his former bosses, the police “code of silence,” other officers investigated for possible wrongdoing, sexual harassment and alcoholism within the department, departmental changes under Lansdowne’s leadership, and more.

Doe is suing over Arevalos’ actions. He is serving a nine-year sentence for sexual battery and other convictions. Arevalos stopped women during DUI traffic stops in the Gaslamp District, among other things.

Doe also wants an independent monitor of the police department. Her lawsuit alleges a culture of cover ups within the department that allowed Arevalos to harass women over several years.

She is the only woman who has not settled out of court, and she has only talked to Team 10 on the condition of anonymity.

From plain clothes detective to police patrol

Years before Arevalos abused Doe, he took a photograph of a naked female detainee and accessed pornography on a police computer while on duty.

Lansdowne said he learned about each of those incidents after Arevalos’ arrest in March 2011, in two separate conversations with Assistant Chief David Ramirez. The naked female detainee’s photograph was taken before Lansdowne arrived in San Diego, and the pornography access happened in 2007.

Written documentation of neither incident could be found in Arevalos’ file, and Lansdowne could not say if there were any Internal Affairs investigations.

Following the pornography incident, Arevalos was transferred, but Lansdowne said he wasn’t aware of the transfer.

“During the time period that you’ve been chief, 2003 to the present, were you required to review all disciplinary transfers?” Doe’s attorney, Joseph Dicks asked.

“Yes,” said Lansdowne.

“And approve them; correct?”

“Correct.”

“Do you have any recollection, as you sit here today, of approving any disciplinary transfer of Anthony Arevalos?” Dicks asked.

“No.”

“As you sit here today, do you have any recollection of either approving or being aware of a disciplinary transfer of any officer under your command for accessing pornographic Web sites on duty?”

“I know we have other cases, but I don’t recall what the discipline on them was,” Lansdowne said.

Dicks continued to question Lansdowne on how many other cases there were of officers viewing porn sites while on duty.

Lansdowne said he could not recall exactly how many, but believed it was less than five cases. He also said he could not recall the disciplinary action on any of the cases.

Lansdowne said he thought he was informed Arevalos had visited the site “Lesbian Lovers” once, and in order for a disciplinary transfer, there would have to be a sustained finding – meaning it would have had to have happened more than once.

Doe’s attorneys pressed Lansdowne, citing court records that showed Arevalos accessed the site on at least 25 occasions.

Lansdowne said Assistant Chief David Ramirez told him Arevalos was disciplined and transferred, and he could not recall if Ramirez told him Arevalos went from a plain clothes detective to a patrol unit.

“I know it was a transfer,” Lansdowne said. “I thought it was to patrol. Because I recall him being sent to patrol, but I’m not sure where it came from.”

It was during Arevalos’ assignment on patrol that he would pull women over on traffic stops.



Officers visiting porn sites while on duty

At this point in the deposition, Doe’s attorney goes back to Lansdowne’s statement that somewhere between one and five other officers in addition to Arevalos visited porn sites while on duty.

“Do you consider that activity a serious violation of Department policy?” Dicks asked.

“It’s a violation,” Lansdowne said. “If you’re talking serious, half the adult world looks at porn, just not on duty.”

“I just want to know from your perspective as chief if you consider that a serious offense,” Dicks said.

“Define ‘serious’,” Lansdowne said.

“Well, I’m not a chief of police, so I – I don’t know how to define what’s serious to you,” Dicks said.

“All cases that are disciplined are serious,” Lansdowne said.

“Did you at all question the appropriateness of the discipline that you were told about, in this instance by Chief Ramirez, of Anthony Arevalos receiving a disciplinary transfer to patrol?” Dicks asked.

“I did not,” said Lansdowne. “I thought it was appropriate.”



Before the porn, a naked female detainee

The deposition also covers when Arevalos took pictures of a naked female detainee. He was still a plain clothes detective in the sex crimes unit at that time. His supervisor then was Lt. Rudy Tai.

“Did you ever have a discussion with anybody on the San Diego Police Department about whether or not it was best to have Rudy Tai, Lieutenant Tai, oversee the Sex Crimes investigation against Anthony Arevalos in light of the fact that he had some personal experience with Anthony Arevalos regarding this photographing of a naked detainee years earlier?” Dicks asked.

“I never knew about any contact between Rudy Tai and Officer Arevalos,” Lansdown said. “And I never asked the question.”

“You were not aware of the fact that Rudy Tai had this information about Anthony Arevalos?”

“I never had the information until after the arrest,” Lansdowne answered.

“Within about a month of the arrest, you learned about the information that Lt. Tai had about Officer Arevalos from years earlier, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Did it concern you that the person who was overseeing the Sex Crimes against – Sex Crimes investigation against Anthony Arevalos had some personal dealing with Anthony Arevalos years earlier regarding photographing a naked detainee inappropriately?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“The officers have contact all the time with everybody in the department. I don’t know why that would cause a problem. He’s professional. He does his job. And he was put there for that reason.”

“Now, in his deposition, Lt. Tai testified that there was no written documentation or reprimand of Anthony Arevalos arising out of the incident with the female naked detainee,” Dicks said.

At that point, attorneys object and said Lansdowne will only answer questions on what he knows, not on what others have said in depositions.

Tai’s video deposition has been marked “Confidential” and has not been accessible. Team 10 and other news organizations have hired an attorney to fight that and get all depositions released to the public.

In a separate deposition that also is public record, a retired officer said Arevalos had a close relationship with his commanding officer, who was Lt. Tai.

"They would go out and party together, go drinking, go bar hopping, go see women together," Frances Torres said of the relationship between Tai and Arevalos. "Supervisors knew of his heavy handedness, of his way of dealing with things. They just turned the other cheek and walked away from it."



When to document sexually inappropriate behavior

Doe’s attorney asked Lansdowne if he expected sexually inappropriate behavior by an on-duty officer to be documented in writing.

“It would depend on what’s going on,” Lansdowne said. “I mean, it’s – depends on what it is.”

“So you believe that there’s some sexually inappropriate conduct that a police officer can engage in that doesn’t require a written report; is that right?” Dicks said.

“Well, your definition of “sexually inappropriate” might be different than mine,” Lansdowne said.

The attorneys then argue for a minute about the term and keeping hypothetical situations out of the deposition.

Dicks asked Lansdowne what sexual misconduct by an on-duty officer would not have to have written documentation.

“If it’s a crime, if something’s against policy, it should be documented,” Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne said the first time he remembered hearing the name Anthony Arevalos was in February 2010. That was when Arevalos assaulted his twelfth victim, known as Jane Roe. She was in his custody at the time, and put his hand in her vagina.

Lansdowne said he got a call at 4:00 a.m. from Ramirez, an assistant chief.

Roe accused Arevalos of the sexual assault as he used a blue search glove.

The former chief said he demanded a sex crimes investigation into the allegations.

“I wanted a thorough and complete review of the incident,” he said.

A SART exam, which is a medical examination for sexual assault victims was needed for Roe. The exams have to be done within 72 hours for accuracy.

“There was a problem, in that she had walked out of the hospital,” Lansdowne said. He also said he was told she was “belligerent and intoxicated.”

An examination eventually was done, within the required 72 hours, though Lansdowne could not say exactly when. He said the lab technician told him the results were inconclusive.

Lansdowne said one of the investigators, he could not remember which one, came to him and told him some blue gloves had been found under a bridge. The gloves were found on the same route Arevalos had used with Roe in his custody.

“And did that raise your level of concern about whether or not Anthony Arevalos had done what was alleged against him?” Dicks asked.

“Well, I’ve learned to wait until the investigation’s done,” Lansdowne said. “It didn’t raise my concern. I was glad it was moving forward.”

Lansdowne said he was briefed every day on the investigation in its beginning stages. Then there was a meeting with a district attorney investigator, who looked at the case, Lansdowne said.

“It seems to me that he saw some credibility gaps in the statements made by the person who complained,” Lansdowne said of the DA investigator.

The district attorney’s office never charged Arevalos with any crime, at that point in time.

Lansdowne said the official Internal Affairs report came back as “not sustained.”

“Do you have any information as to whether or not the District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute influenced the Internal Affairs investigation at all?” Dicks asked.

“None at all.”

Lansdowne said he fired two officers for keeping what they knew about Arevalos’ conduct from the department. Those officers instead reported what they knew to the district attorney’s office.

“I certainly was unaware of it,” he said.

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