San Diego Police Officer Cesar Alcantara is shown in body camera footage on Nov. 15, 2018.

A San Diego Police officer staged his suicide with fake blood, shot a gun off in his home while his girlfriend was present and solicited sex during his work shifts, including at a murder scene.

Officer Cesar Alcantara initially denied any wrongdoing, according to an Internal Affairs report made public this year. Then, a search of his home uncovered bullet fragments, a hole in the floorboards and a bottle labeled “stage blood.” And text messages provided to police showed him talking with sex workers while on duty.

Yet Alcantara has faced few consequences so far.

Alcantara was placed on leave during SDPD’s investigation, but he resigned from the force last year before it was completed, so he was never formally disciplined. The County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute him, saying the physical evidence, photographs, video and eye-witness testimony were not enough to support the case.

Why this matters

Police officers are given the powers to stop, detain, arrest and use force on citizens when warranted. They are expected to uphold the law.

Plus, state records show he’s still eligible to be a police officer in California.

Alcantara’s case highlights the shortcomings of the systems designed to protect the public from problematic and potentially dangerous law enforcement officers. It also raises questions about whether police agencies — and those charged with their oversight — could be doing more to hold officers accountable.

“I looked at the pictures and the allegations, and it was disturbing,” said Sharmaine Moseley, the interim director of the city’s Commission on Police Practices.

Moseley reviewed the case at inewsource’s request. The commission has oversight of many investigations into officers at SDPD, but not this one. That’s because the person who filed the complaint wasn’t a civilian — it was Alcantara’s girlfriend, a fellow SDPD officer at the time who later became his wife.

Moseley said it was important for prosecutors to treat the police the same as everyone else.

“You’re thinking about an officer engaging in misconduct,” she said. “If you compare it to an average community member, you take those two and you compare it, would the DA have thought the same thing?”

A photo from an investigation into San Diego Police Officer Cesar Alcantara taken in Chula Vista in 2021.

inewsource pieced together Alcantara’s history by examining internal police files, family court records, government meeting agendas and policy manuals. Taken together, the records offer an unusually detailed look into internal law enforcement operations and the obstacles thwarting the growing efforts for more police accountability.

The Internal Affairs investigation into Alcantara’s actions is one of just roughly 100 police misconduct files SDPD has released over the past few years under new state transparency laws. It’s unclear how many more of these records the department holds or will make public.

An inewsource and KPBS investigation in March found that the files only paint a partial picture of whether police are held accountable for wrongdoing. Disciplinary records are missing in about one-third of the cases, which include sustained findings of discrimination, dishonesty, excessive force and unreasonable searches.

And it’s difficult to find repeat offenders.

Alcantara is one of only five officers who have at least two misconduct cases in the records published online, but it’s not easy to tell because the files aren’t labeled with officers’ names. inewsource and KPBS manually compiled the information by combing through the lengthy investigative reports.

A screenshot from an Internal Affairs case file referencing San Diego Police Officer Cesar Alcantara.

The documents show that in 2018, Alcantara unlawfully searched a man who he thought was on probation, despite the man repeatedly stating that was incorrect.

As would become true a second time in the years that followed for Alcantara, there was no record of any disciplinary action taken against him.

The facts unfold

Alcantara’s plight began just after Mother’s Day in 2020. After arguing with his girlfriend at their Chula Vista house, she left for the beach to be alone. Alcantara demanded she come home and, according to police and family court records, drunkenly sent her multiple graphic images and a video threatening to hurt himself. One picture shows him pointing his loaded off-duty firearm in his mouth.

When his girlfriend, also an SDPD officer, returned, Alcantara was lying on the living room floor as if he were dead with what appeared to be blood surrounding his body.

“I’ll never forget walking in there and seeing that,” she later told police.

But she quickly realized the blood was fake and Alcantara was unharmed. She ran upstairs in tears. That’s when Alcantara shot his Glock at the floor.

A photo from an investigation into San Diego Police Officer Cesar Alcantara taken in Chula Vista in 2021.

Worried he may have taken his life, Alcantara’s girlfriend returned to his side before realizing he was still alive. She began shouting at him. Alcantara told her to be quiet. He turned on his radio scanner to monitor for any reports of a gunshot in the neighborhood.

Nobody ended up calling the cops, not even Alcantara’s girlfriend, and the incident went unnoticed.

That is, until February 2021, when a rumor circulated at the police station about a gun going off at Alcantara’s home. Investigators interviewed both officers, who had since been married, but both denied anything happened.

The case fizzled out until September that year. Alcantara’s wife wanted to get a divorce and was worried about his reaction, she told police, so she came clean to protect herself. She recounted the details of the incident, handed over the graphic images he had sent her and provided text messages showing he was contacting sex workers during their marriage.

“I’m not trying to threaten his job,” she said at the time. “I’m not trying to railroad him or be vindictive. I just want to be sure that I’m able to get out without incident.”

Equipped with new information, the Chula Vista Police Department searched Alcantara’s home and found several pieces of physical evidence. His wife was granted a restraining order, which required Alcantara to relinquish his weapons, and San Diego Police placed him on leave while they investigated further.

SDPD decided to speak with Alcantara again in May last year, almost exactly two years after the gun went off in his house. When he arrived at the station, he asked to delay the interview. Two hours later, he resigned from the police department.

Alcantara could not be reached for comment for this story.

Alcantara is a Marine Corps veteran who worked with SDPD for five years and was a member of its Crime Suppression Team, which targets high-crime neighborhoods.

Internal Affairs officers continued looking into Alcantara after he resigned. They reviewed hundreds of texts he sent through an anonymous messaging app and determined he had solicited sex in exchange for money four times while on duty. One time, in October 2020, Alcantara was setting up police tape and monitoring the outer perimeter of a homicide scene while messaging a sex worker.

SDPD concluded in June last year that Alcantara had engaged in criminal conduct and was untruthful when he denied his actions. 

“Cesar’s choosing to engage in such immoral, and illegal, behavior while also being a police officer is a failure in keeping with the highest standards of the law enforcement profession,” the report states.


San Diego and Chula Vista police investigated the May 2020 incident as possible domestic violence and listed several criminal offenses in their reports: shooting at an inhabited dwelling, negligent discharge of a firearm and soliciting prostitution. The first offense alone can carry a seven-year prison sentence.

But the DA did not prosecute.

Alcantara’s status as an officer did not influence that decision, according to DA spokesperson Steve Walker.

The office evaluates all cases by the same standards, regardless of whether the suspect is in law enforcement, Walker said. He added that Internal Affairs cases don’t have to meet the same burden of proof as criminal cases do.

“We evaluated this particular case for multiple potential criminal charges, and in each, a required criminal element was missing and unable to be proven,” Walker said.

A California law requires police departments to report serious incidents of misconduct to the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which can suspend or revoke an officer’s certification.

A photo from an investigation into San Diego Police Officer Cesar Alcantara taken in Chula Vista in 2021.

Unless Alcantara’s law enforcement certification is revoked, he is still able to work at other police agencies in California. A review of San Diego County police rosters collected in November did not show Alcantara as a sworn officer in the region.

The commission would not confirm if Alcantara is under investigation, but it said many cases are still pending since the law went into effect in January. A growing list of decertified officers can be found online.

“We do feel it’s valuable for the public and we do feel that the process is working as it was intended, but time will tell,” said commission spokesperson Meagan Poulos.

Alcantara’s wife was also an officer at SDPD when the gunshot incident occurred, records show. Additionally, until her membership expired in January, she was a certified member of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.

But she was untruthful with investigators when they first asked her about the incident — a violation of department policy that is a fireable offense.

Christy Heiskala, a domestic violence specialist and survivor advocate at Haeggquist & Eck LLP, said victims are often conflicted about coming forward about abuse.

“The victim can face retaliation from the perpetrator, but also from the rest of the police department if that’s where they work,” she said. “So they feel like they’re in a no-win situation and they’re just trying to make it through each day.”

Domestic violence resources

Your Safe Place in San Diego and One Safe Place in San Marcos provide a range of services and resources for people who have experienced domestic violence.
These tips aim to help victims seeking justice in a domestic violence prosecution.

Heiskala said threatening to harm oneself in front of loved ones is a standard form of abuse that falls under the definition of domestic violence.

Roughly 40% of police officers or their spouses report experiencing domestic violence, research suggests, and the issue is thought to be much more pervasive among law enforcement than in the general population.

State law requires findings of officer dishonesty to become public record, but no case file has been made public about Alcantara’s wife. Records show she was approved for a nine-month leave in March last year citing “childcare and personal” reasons and left the force in October.

inewsource chose not to name her because she is a domestic violence victim. She declined to comment for this story.

“I feel like such an idiot,” she told police at the time. “It’s embarrassing to tell the story, because when you say it out loud, anybody’s going to be like, why did you stay in that relationship? Like what were you thinking? And being on this side now, now I understand what people who are actually the victim go through.”

SDPD declined to answer questions for this story because it involves personnel matters.

During divorce proceedings, Alcantara’s wife told the court what occurred in May 2020 and provided photographic evidence. But Alcantara defended himself, stating that his wife was not abused or scared of him and that she was hostile toward him during their relationship.

Suicide prevention help

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, you can call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.

Alcantara wrote in a court statement that he struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was binge drinking that day because it was the anniversary of his sister’s death. He said he blacked out and does not remember firing his weapon.

“The fact is that I almost died that night, not because of suicidal ideations or threats, but because my level of intoxication was so severe that handling a handgun was just the stupidest decision of my life,” he wrote.

Alcantara said he had improved himself since the incident and was trying to begin outpatient treatment at the San Diego VA for his alcohol use.

“My world has been turned upside down because of something I did to myself over a year ago,” Alcantara wrote. “I have changed since then.”

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...