SAN DIEGO (AP) — To the young women who got into trouble partying in San Diego's popular downtown Gaslamp Quarter, officer Anthony Arevalos offered a way out: In return for sex, he would look the other way on traffic infractions.
His arrest last year marked one of the most egregious examples of a department that had gotten out of control with nearly two dozen officers busted on allegations ranging from rape to drunken driving to domestic violence.
On Friday, as Arevalos was sentenced to nearly nine years in state prison, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne applauded the judge for "his handling of this difficult case and his thoughtful consideration concerning what punishment was appropriate for someone who so completely violated the public trust."
The scandal in one of the country's safest cities raised questions about whether the department was turning a blind eye to the misconduct amid the plummeting crime rate.
The chief thanked the victims for stepping forward and said the sentence should make it clear that officers will be held accountable for their actions. The department has undergone major reforms since the cases emerged.
"As difficult as this has been for the San Diego Police Department, I believe we have emerged a stronger and more resilient organization," Lansdowne said in a statement after the sentencing.
Lansdowne said last year that public trust in the force had fallen so low at one point that people were verbally challenging officers when stopped for questioning. One officer was arrested on charges that he raped and kidnapped a woman while on duty the day after Lansdowne apologized to the public for his officers' misconduct and announced his crackdown.
Since then he has beefed up internal-affairs staffing and ethics training, reviewed use-of-force tactics, and conducted meetings with uniformed and civilian employees. The department also set up a 24-hour hotline for people to report officer misconduct.
The 2,300-member department has seen improvement, spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said. But the problem has not completely disappeared. Last month, a former supervisor of Arevalos was charged with fixing a ticket for a friend, a deputy district attorney, who was also charged.
The force may never regain the trust of some.
When Judge Jeffrey Fraser announced the sentence, he said he took into account the fact that Arevalos targeted drunken young women who were vulnerable and could not call on anyone else for help.
"They will forever fear the police," he said.
During the hearing, prosecutor Sherry Thompson read the judge a statement from one of the victims who said she cannot sleep at night and is afraid of being alone.
"I still do not understand how for 18 years the sick propensities of Mr. Arevalos were ignored," the victim said in the statement about his time on the police force.
A jury convicted Arevalos of eight felony and four misdemeanor charges for sexual battery, bribery, assault by an officer and false imprisonment. The crimes involved five women during an 18-month period starting in 2009. All were stopped in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Arevalos was arrested last March after a woman reported he had stopped her in the district for failing to use a turn signal. The victim testified in court that after she tested above the legal limit for blood-alcohol content, Arevalos asked what she would be willing to do to make the DUI go away. He eventually led her to a nearby convenience store bathroom where he sexually assaulted her.
Arevalos was fired from the San Diego Police Department after he was charged in April.
The sobbing officer begged the judge to have mercy on his family and not send him away. He apologized to the victims, the Police Department, community and his family.
"I realize my actions caused a lot of pain," said Arevalos, who must register as a sex offender. "I'm deeply remorseful and I pray for forgiveness."
The defense had asked the judge to spare the 41-year-old father of two from jail time, pointing out that he had been a decorated police officer who removed drug dealers and rapists from city streets and saved a young boy's life during his career.
Fraser, however, said the eight-year, eight-month sentence was meant to punish Arevalos and act as a deterrent to any other potential violations of public trust by officers. The prosecution had asked for the maximum sentence of nine years, eight months.
This is a story update. A previous story is below.
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A former San Diego police officer who bribed and sexually assaulted women he stopped in the Gaslamp District for drunken driving and other offenses was sentenced Friday to nearly nine years in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.
Anthony Arevalos, 41, was convicted in November of eight felony and four misdemeanor charges involving five women, including multiple counts of sexual battery by restraint, asking for a bribe and assault and battery by a police officer. He was acquitted of other serious charges involving two other women.
The eight-year and eight-month sentence, handed down by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Fraser following a two-hour hearing, was about one year short of the maximum punishment.
The judge -- who also ordered the defendant was ordered to pay more than $2,000 to one of the victims, who is receiving counseling -- said Arevalos used the power of his badge to violate women.
"That's a crooked cop, and crooked cops go to prison," Fraser said.
Arevalos, an 18-year SDPD veteran, was fired after allegations came to light last March that he tried to make "deals" with women he stopped and that he sexually assaulted three of them. Most of the stops in question were for driving under the influence and happened between September 2009 and March of last year.
"This was not a mistake," said one of the victims, identified as Melissa W. "Mistakes happen once, not over a period of years."
Deputy District Attorney Sherry Thompson read a letter written by a woman who testified that she was assaulted by Arevalos in a downtown convenience store bathroom.
"Jane Doe" wrote that she was raised to respect law enforcement, but feared there were others like Arevalos in the ranks of the SDPD.
The judge said that after years of service that included saving a child's life and numerous commendations, something went wrong with the officer.
"There are bad apples in every department," he said. "They must be shown that if they have conduct like this, they will be punished."
The defendant, in a tearful and halting statement, said he was sorry for the pain he brought to the victims, his family and the SDPD.
"I realize how many people I've hurt with what I've done," Arevalos said. "I just want to say I'm sorry to all I hurt."
Defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms argued that her client should be given probation, and asked that the judge give a balanced appraisal of his life.
She said Arevalos' life unraveled around the time of the assaults, having lost his home and intimacy with his wife, and acknowledged his boorish behavior around women.
"Do you get 10 years for being a pig?" Von Helms asked. "That's my question."
Outside court, von Helms said Arevalos shouldn't have been punished as if he raped Jane Doe.
"It isn't a rape. This was not a rape," the defense attorney said. "This was not any forced sexual behavior. Was this bad behavior for a police officer? Absolutely, I'm not saying that it wasn't."
San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne applauded the judge's thoughtful consideration of what punishment to mete out to someone "who so completely violated the public trust."
"I also want to thank the courageous victim who came forward and reported the crime which allowed the San Diego Police Department to do a complete and thorough investigation that ultimately led to his (Arevalos') conviction," Lansdowne said. "This case should make it clear that nobody is above the law. As difficult as this has been for the San Diego Police
Department, I believe we have emerged a stronger and more resilient organization."