A year after West Sacramento police Officer Sergio Alvarez was convicted of prowling the streets during his graveyard shift and using his position to abduct and rape at least half a dozen women, the city agreed Wednesday to pay $2.8 million to four of his victims.
The settlement covers a lawsuit filed in Yolo Superior Court. Combined with two other settlements in federal court, one still awaiting approval by a judge, the city has agreed to pay a total of $4.11 million to Alvarez’s victims. The money will come from self-insurance pools covering West Sacramento and other public entities in the state.
“With the conclusion of the criminal and civil cases, the police department of West Sacramento is relieved that the legal aspects of this horrible event have been resolved,” Bruce Kilday, an attorney representing the city, said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The victims of Alvarez’s criminal acts can continue with the healing process, and the police department can continue regaining the trust of the people of the city they serve.”
The Alvarez case was one of the department’s darkest scandals. The officer was accused of preying upon prostitutes, drug addicts and other women, described in court as “down-and-outers,” that he believed would not report his assaults.
Alvarez used phony DUI stops and computer warrant searches to single out his victims, some of whom he attacked in his patrol car or in dark alleys from 2011 to 2012. As sexual assault victims, the women have not been publicly identified.
One of the victims reported her assault to police in September 2012, and Alvarez was indicted and arrested in 2013 after an investigation.
He was found guilty of 18 counts of kidnapping, rape and forced oral copulation in 2014 and sentenced to 205 years in prison.
Alvarez’s crimes also destroyed his own marriage to Rachel Alvarez, with whom he had three children and who fled their home with the kids and drove across the country to escape him.
“Sergio did not choose to stop raping women; he was stopped,” Rachel Alvarez wrote in a statement that was read in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing. “Sergio’s fire destroyed my community. My children’s sense of security was destroyed, too. ... The women Sergio hurt will never forget and will never trust law enforcement again.”
Sacramento attorney Robert Buccola, who represented the four victims in Thursday’s settlement, said, “Alvarez was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he did sloppy work.”
“But there was no indication prior to the time this matter came to the attention of the department that he was a sexual predator,” Buccola said.
The size of the settlement was relatively modest compared with the much larger personal injury awards that Buccola’s firm, Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, has won against private firms. He said the amount reflects the fact that the offenses were committed by Alvarez, not the Police Department itself, and there was nothing to show the department knew of Alvarez’s criminal activities.
“In this case, had it played out to a jury, the jurors know who’s writing the check,” Buccola said. “There are no punitive damages available from a public entity, and they know where the bad conduct lies.”
Kilday said the investigation into Alvarez included reviewing all vehicle stops and record checks the officer made over a one-year period and contacting women to determine if they had been subjected to improper conduct.
He added that “there was no evidence of prior complaints of this nature against Alvarez.”
Rachel Alvarez has disputed that. In the statement read for her at the sentencing, she contended she found evidence in March 2012, six months before the department said it first learned of the crimes, of possible wrongdoing of which the police were aware.
“I came across an Internal Affairs paper I found in my own home that mentioned one,” she said, adding that her husband told her at the time that he had been ordered to leave his dash cameras on while on patrol. She wrote that the allegation was never investigated.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189