2017 Staffing
Support Staff5

The Special Operations Division was led during 2017 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 209 open investigations in 2017.

The Special Operations Division also reviews officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The Office of the District Attorney has conducted reviews of all officer-involved shootings (OIS) in the line of duty by San Diego County peace officers 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.

If the peace officer’s actions were determined to be legally justifiable, 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 2017, the division completed reviews of 20 officer-involved shootings and two in-custody deaths.

In 2016, the Chiefs of Police, Sheriff and District Attorney implemented a new policy on how public release of law enforcement video obtained during an officer-involved shooting would occur. During 2017 the District Attorney released video in eight officer-involved shooting cases dating back to March, 2016.

The Firearms Compliance Team (FACT) investigates and prosecutes persons who attempt to purchase or acquire firearms but are legally prohibited from doing so. Prohibited persons include felons, persons subject to a restraining order, persons with certain misdemeanor convictions, such as domestic violence, or persons who have been previously committed to a mental health institution. A prosecutor and investigator are assigned to FACT cases throughout the county. In 2017 they reviewed 186 cases.

The Background Unit handles all in-house investigations including background checks for potential employees. Last year, the unit performed 256 background checks.

In addition, the division has international liaisons that assist with cases in other divisions or branches.

Some of Special Operations Division cases of note last year included:

Integrity of the Justice System
A 75-year old defendant previously sued his employer for age discrimination. Part of his proof was an email purportedly from his employer to him, which referred to him as being senile, on medication and having memory issues. The email was allegedly discovered right before the civil trial and was presented as proof during the civil trial which ended with a judgment against the employer. After the trial the defendant’s computer was forensically examined and the email was found to have been created by altering an email the employer had sent defendant. A jury convicted the defendant of multiple counts of perjury and preparing a false document with the intent that it be presented in a trial. At the end of the case, the defendant was ordered to pay $590,865 in restitution for the costs the victim incurred in going to trial in the civil case.

Government Theft
A San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency clerk skimmed almost $13,000 in cash, from fees collected from emergency medical technicians, paramedics and mobile intensive care nurses so they could be certified. The clerk pleaded guilty to felony grand theft.

Firearms Compliance Cases
A defendant, who was prohibited from possessing a firearm, was prosecuted for possessing concealed weapons and for being a prohibited person in possession of firearms and ammunition. The defendant was in a public library with a loaded firearm clipped inside his pants, feet away from the children’s area of the library. A jury convicted him of all counts.

Hate Crimes
A defendant entered a church rectory and contacted an associate of the church. He asked the associate if he was a priest, then picked up scissors from a desk and brandished it at the victim. The defendant claimed he had a gun. The defendant walked back and forth in front of the office door preventing victim from escaping. The defendant said he was there to kill the priest, after the priest hears his confession about the horrible things he has done to his wife. The victim believed defendant intended to kill him. He tried to pick up a phone to find help, but defendant demanded he put the phone down. The victim was able to secretly text a friend who works at the San Diego Police Department. When the defendant became distracted, the victim ran outside, taking a housekeeper with him. The defendant pleaded guilty to false imprisonment while personally armed with a knife. He received a three-year prison term.

In another case, the defendant beat an African-American man, yelling racial slurs at him. The victim suffered a tear to his ear, requiring several stitches, along with cuts and swelling to his face. The defendant pleaded guilty to felony assault likely to cause great bodily injury and causing great bodily injury. He was sentenced to a three-year prison term.

Officer Involved Shootings
Body-worn camera footage or other video evidence continued to reveal how quickly officers have to respond to threatening circumstances. They include:

  • Witnessing officers stopping a suspect from climbing into a daycare facility while armed with what turned out to be a BB pistol.
  • An officer saving a young woman’s life as she was being held at gunpoint by her former boyfriend, who had just shot her mother, father, and grandfather. The woman’s parents died from their injuries.
  • Shocking video footage from a police helicopter showed Peter Selis shooting at innocent and vulnerable people, who moments before had been celebrating a friend’s birthday at a pool in a La Jolla apartment complex.