2016 Staffing
Support Staff6

The Special Operations Division is led by Division Chief Paul Azevedo and Assistant Chief Fiona Dunleavy. The division investigates cases involving misuse of public funds, political corruption, hate crimes, threats and other crimes impacting the integrity of the justice system, such as perjury, filing falsified documents, and criminal misconduct of government officials, including peace officers and other public employees. In all, the division had 266 open investigations in 2016.

The Special Operations Division also reviews officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The District Attorney’s Office has conducted reviews of all officer-involved shootings in the line of duty since the mid-1970s. The purpose of the District Attorney’s review is to provide an independent review of all shootings and other use of deadly force, fatal and non-fatal, to assure the public that peace officers in San Diego County are performing their duties in a legally-justified manner.

Upon completion of the District Attorney’s review, a letter summarizing the facts and statements of the deputy or officer and other witnesses is written and delivered to the respective police chief or San Diego County Sheriff. During 2016, the division completed reviews of 17 officer-involved shootings and three in-custody deaths.

In 2016, Police Chiefs, the Sheriff and the District Attorney implemented a new policy on how to release video to the public, obtained during an officer-involved shooting. The District Attorney released videos in 17 officer-involved shooting cases in 2016. The cases involved shooting incidents dating back to 2014.

The Firearms Compliance Team (FACT) investigates and prosecutes people who attempt to purchase or acquire firearms, but are legally prohibited from doing so. Prohibited individuals include felons, people with restraining orders, those with certain misdemeanor convictions, such as domestic violence, or people who have been previously committed to a mental health institution. A prosecutor and investigator are assigned to FACT cases throughout the county. In 2016 they reviewed 94 cases.

The Background Unit handles all in-house investigations including background checks for potential employees. Last year, the unit performed 303 background checks.

In addition, the division has tribal and international liaisons, which assist with cases in other District Attorney divisions or branches.

Some of the notable Special Operations Division cases last year included:

Hate Crimes
The defendant threatened to kill a store employee and knocked a display case to the ground. Two hours later, he assaulted a neighbor who had previously called him gay. The defendant yelled slurs at his neighbor and punched him in the face. When the victim threatened to call the police, the defendant punched him again. While the victim was calling for help, the defendant punched him a third time and kicked him. Later in the day, the defendant punched and kicked a homeless woman. A second victim was able to run away, but the defendant followed her, knocked her down twice and kicked her in the head and other parts of her body. The defendant was convicted of several charges after a jury trial and sentenced to 18 years and eight months in prison.

Theft from Public Institutions
A senior at the University of California San Diego worked on campus and was assigned to the parking office. The student stole parking permits and sold and distributed them for more than $60,500. The student pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement. In addition, the University declined to issue the student a diploma and the student could not graduate.

Political Corruption
The defendant, a North County school board member, falsely filed nomination papers, candidacy papers and Form 700s in order to run for office in a district he did not live in. The defendant was elected and thereafter voted on matters before the school board. He pleaded guilty to a violation of Elections Code section 18560(a), voting when not entitled.

Firearms Compliance Cases
Examples of FACT cases filed in 2016 include the following:

  • A defendant attempted to buy a semi-automatic handgun after being admitted or committed to mental health institutions on five separate occasions from 2012 to 2014.
  • A defendant attempted to buy a shotgun after being committed to a mental health institution on three separate occasions in 2011.
  • A defendant attempted to buy a rifle although she was a felon and had a previous commitment to mental health institution. The defendant had been investigated for shooting at people on two prior occasions.
  • A defendant persuaded an acquaintance to retrieve his firearm from a gun dealer. It had been taken there after defendant was committed to a mental health institution for assaulting his mother. Both defendant and his accomplice were prosecuted and pled guilty.

Threats against the Criminal Justice System
The defendant threatened to kill his attorney, whom he said was on a “hit list,” as well as the immigration judge hearing his case. The defendant pleaded guilty to threatening a judicial officer. He also admitted a prior strike conviction for attempted murder. He was sentenced to four years in prison.