Holding the cops accountable

March 13, 2014

Avery Wear reports on a coalition organized around police sexual misconduct cases.

A SMALL group of protesters gathered in front of the Hall of Justice in San Diego on March 10 chanting, "Blame the system, not the victim!"

The 12 activists are part of a new coalition called FED UP San Diego. They brought a clear message to their press conference--recent sexual abuse scandals in the San Diego Police Department are not the result of "a few bad apples," but of a longstanding cultural problem of institutional sexism in this and many other police departments.

FED UP took the initiative to raise these issues in the aftermath of rape and abuse allegations and convictions against San Diego officers (including Anthony Arevalos) and, most recently, revelations that the Special Victims Unit offices' walls featured sexist and degrading images of women. As FED UP activist Holly Hellerstedt explained, this type of material only heightens the fears of victims that they will be ignored, or worse, in coming forward with their stories.

Back in May 2011, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne apologized to the city after a rash of police misconduct cases--including the arrest of officer Daniel Edward Dana on charges of rape, assault and kidnapping. Nor was Dana's an isolated case. In the three months prior to Dana's arrest, there were 10 total alleged cases of police misconduct for a variety of crimes.

Former San Diego police chief William Lansdowne
Former San Diego police chief William Lansdowne (Kevin Baird)

Officer Anthony Arevalos was convicted in November 2011 of felony and misdemeanor charges, including sexual battery and assault and battery involving five women. Even as Arevalos was assaulting women, San Diego's ABC 10 News recently reported that a "series of sexually suggestive posters hung in the San Diego Police Department's sex crimes unit...Two of the posters make light of women victimized by the date rape drug rohypnol. Other posters celebrate sex acts, binge drinking and female anatomy."

Two female sex crimes detectives are now suing the department for sexual harassment. At least one of Arevalos' victims is also suing the city. "I did my part and it's time for the city to do theirs and clean this up," one of Arevalos' victims told ABC News.

At the time of Dana's arrest in May 2011, Lansdowne outlined a seven-step program with a goal of "greatly reducing future incidents" of wrongdoing by officers. The strategies included increased internal-affairs staffing, more ethics training, an around-the-clock complaint "hot line," among other plans to check police officers' behavior.

But apparently this training hasn't helped. Last month, prosecutors filed sexual battery and false imprisonment charges against San Diego police officer Chris Hays, accusing him of sexually assaulting at least four women last year.

As local television stations covered the protest at the Hall of Justice, FED UP activist Alicia Nichols read out the new coalition's demands. They include the appointment of an independent monitor by a federal judge for the handling of complaints of officer misconduct; no taxpayer funds be used to defend cops charged with sex crimes, including assault and harassment; and the creation of an elected Community Review Board empowered to receive and investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault and to implement comprehensive sexual misconduct training for officers.

Lansdowne abruptly announced his retirement in late February in the wake of the latest sexual abuse scandal involving his officers. But as Hellerstedt told the cameras, "Having a new police chief is not a solution. We demand real change."

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