Updated: 8:49 p.m. Sept. 25, 2014
A woman who claimed a then-San Diego police officer demanded sexual favors from her in a convenience store restroom settled her federal lawsuit against the city for $5.9 million, lawyers on both sides of the case said Thursday.
A little over half of the settlement amount will go to the attorneys for the woman identified only as “Jane Doe,” who was lauded for being the first victim to step forward and accuse Anthony Arevalos of wrongdoing.
The 18-year veteran officer was convicted in November 2011 of felony and misdemeanor charges involving five women he pulled over in the Gaslamp Quarter. The counts included sexual battery by restraint, asking for a bribe and assault and battery by a police officer. Now in prison, he was acquitted of other serious charges involving two women.
“Jane Doe was the courageous victim whose report of Arevalos’ misconduct led to his arrest and conviction,” said Mitch Dean, an attorney who represented the city of San Diego and its insurance carriers. “Part of her motivation for her lawsuit was so that no one else would be a victim of Arevalos, or an officer like him.”
The woman testified that he forced her into a convenience store restroom in March 2011 and demanded that she give him her panties and show her breasts. He also placed his finger in her vaginal area, she said.
Because of the nature of the officer’s actions, city officials had feared that the woman could have won a large jury award if the case went to trial.
Instead, the city’s insurance carriers will pick up around $5.7 million of the settlement, leaving the city to pay around $200,000, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. He said that in all the Arevalos cases combined, including 13 settlements and expenses, the city had to shell out around $4 million.
The plaintiff did not appear at a news conference to announce the details of the settlement because of concerns about her privacy, said one of her lawyers, Linda Workman.
“I think this settlement sends a very loud message about the toll that this type of abuse of power takes on victims and on society,” Workman said. “I think that her efforts and her bravery have made a safer city.”
San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said it takes years of hard work for a police department to build trust within the community, but it can be eroded in just minutes.
“It is our hope that Jane Doe, who was courageous to come forward, can now put this behind her and focus her efforts on her healing,” Zimmerman said. “And we are glad that we can put this behind us, so we can focus on our future and rebuild our police department.”
Arevalos was one of several SDPD officers accused of some form of sexual harassment over a period of several years. The growing number of incidents led then Chief William Lansdowne to step down, to be replaced by San Diego’s first female police chief.
Zimmerman said the department has re-instituted its Professional Standards Unit, a victim of budget cuts during the recession, and is requiring mandatory reporting of officer misconduct, providing uniform cameras to hundreds of officers, and undergoing an assessment by the U.S. Department of Justice.
There had been talk about the possibility of a federal monitor being appointed to oversee the SDPD, but such an action was not required by the settlement. Goldsmith said a federal monitor would have cost the city at least $1 million a year, and probably more.
Lawyers first announced a tentative settlement almost two months ago, about two weeks before a trial was scheduled to begin.
The agreement was scheduled to be considered by the San Diego City Council in closed session at a special meeting set for Aug. 7, but no action was reported in public. The case does not appear on any subsequent closed session dockets.
– City News Service