Police chief vows to address SDPD’s officer-misconduct problems
SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Police Chief William Lansdowne apologized Tuesday on behalf of his department for a recent spate of officer-misconduct cases and pledged to do everything possible to regain the public's confidence and “repair the damage done.”
“I want to personally apologize to every citizen of the city of San Diego, as this behavior is not expected, nor condoned by me or anyone in the San Diego Police Department,” Lansdowne said.
In response to what he called an “unprecedented number” of accusations against SDPD personnel surfacing over the last three months — nine cases total, five of which have resulted in arrests of officers — Lansdowne outlined a seven-step program with a goal of “greatly reducing future incidents” of wrongdoing.
The revised strategies include increased internal-affairs staffing, more ethics training, an around-the-clock complaint “hot line,” a review of the department's discipline manual and use-of-force tactics, psychological “wellness” assessments during officers' annual evaluations and a series of meetings with all employees.
The SDPD's command staff believes the plan will help restore the agency's reputation, according to Lansdowne.
“I clearly understand that this activity, conduct … (of the) officers involved in these cases has tarnished the image of this police department,” the chief said outside downtown SDPD headquarters. “And we'll work hard to repair that, but it'll take years to rebuild that relationship, I believe, between us and the community of San Diego.”
The latest allegations against an SDPD officer came to light Monday, when the department acknowledged the arrest of William Johnson, a 12-year department veteran, on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in the South Bay.
Johnson was off-duty when he was taken into custody by Chula Vista police about midnight Saturday, following a collision that left another motorist with minor injuries. He will work a desk assignment pending the outcome of the case.
Last week, SDPD officials announced that an internal investigation was under way into whether a patrolman used excessive force while arresting an allegedly drunk and combative man outside a North Park nightspot.
The officer, whose name has been withheld, was one of three San Diego police officers who struggled to subdue 38-year-old Shawn Allen McPherren in front of the Alibi bar late on the night of May 1, SDPD Executive Assistant Chief David Ramirez said.
A witness captured the arrest with his cellphone camera and later contacted television stations, which aired the images.
The footage shows the uniformed personnel crouching around McPherren, who was prone on a sidewalk, grappling with him while one of the officers punched him in the midsection or arms a half-dozen times.
The following day, an SDPD motorcycle patrolman pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence and hit-and-run allegations in connection with an off-duty Feb. 22 traffic accident on Murray Ridge Road in Serra Mesa. Officer David Hall, 41, faces up to three years and eight months in prison if convicted of the charges.
In late April, a judge ordered San Diego police Sgt. Kenneth H. Davis, 47, to stand trial on one count of stalking a fellow officer he had dated and three counts of making harassing telephone calls to her. Davis, a 23-year department veteran, could serve up to three years in prison if found guilty of the allegations, which came to light in February.
On April 11, an SDPD patrolman was involved in an off-duty dispute during which he allegedly assaulted a 17-year-old neighbor boy he caught smoking marijuana. The officer, a Mira Mesa resident whose name has not been released, has been transferred to desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation and a concurrent review by the District Attorney's Office, said SDPD Lt. Andra Brown, a department spokeswoman.
In March, 42-year-old Art Perea, a vice officer with the department, resigned amid accusations of raping a Point Loma Nazarene University student at an El Cajon home. He has not been charged in the case, which remains under investigation.
On March 11, San Diego police Officer Anthony Arevalos, 40, was arrested after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her following a traffic stop in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Four other women subsequently came forward and made similar allegations against Arevalos, who has pleaded not guilty to 18 felony counts, including sexual battery, false imprisonment, assault under color of authority and receiving a bribe.
On March 24, San Diego police Officer Roel Tungcab was arrested by sheriff's deputies in the aftermath of a fight with his wife at their Imperial Beach home. Tungcab, 39, faces misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
On March 29, an SDPD officer was videotaped wrestling with an allegedly inebriated and disruptive soccer fan at Qualcomm Stadium.
The 49-second recording, posted on YouTube the following day, shows the officer on the floor of a stadium concourse, struggling to subdue 27-year-old David Rangel of San Diego.
The officer, whose name has not been released, at times used an arm to put Rangel in a chokehold from behind and finally shoved his head onto the concrete, causing a loud smacking sound when the side of the suspect's face and the palm of his hand hit the floor.
Police officials opened an internal probe into the arrest, which occurred during a Mexico-Venezuela soccer game.
Less recently, a San Diego police officer and his wife were criminally charged for allegedly looting and trashing their foreclosed home in Riverside County out of spite.
Robert Conrad Acosta, 39, and his wife Evette Acosta, 35, were accused last autumn of burglarizing and vandalizing their former residence, a six- bedroom tract home east of Murrieta.
The damage included stones smashed off the facade, dye poured on the carpet, a missing air conditioner and other appliances, destroyed and stolen fixtures, wiring torn out of the walls, uprooted trees thrown in the swimming pool, a missing garage door, a torn-up flagstone patio, walkway and hallway, and spray paint on the walls, according to prosecutors.
Robert Acosta was put on paid administrative leave pending the resolution of the case. He resigned from the department late last year.
As the instances of alleged officer wrongdoing have mounted, the chief said, some have placed some of the blame on stress from understaffing, economic woes that have left some department members “losing their homes” or “all the publicity about pensions and greedy city employees.”
“But I'm here today as the chief of the San Diego police to tell you: At the end of the day, there is no excuse at all for the conduct of the officers that (we are) talking about,” he said.
Among the improvements in the new “Early Identification and Intervention System” is the addition of several sergeants to the department's internal-affairs division. The increased staffing will allow misconduct cases to be investigated and dealt with more quickly, the chief said.
Another key component will be increased attention to job-performance “red flags” that might be early warning signs for officer misconduct, department officials said.
The confidential public tip line will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to Lansdowne.
“That line will come directly to my office,” the chief said. “And I will be the only person to listen to those complaints and issues.”