BEVERLY HILLS— A video posted on YouTube is now at the center of several lawsuits filed against the city of Beverly Hills, the Beverly Hills Police Department and Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli.
The video stars BHPD officers Stanley Shen and Charles Yang mocking Asians and African Americans using racial stereotypes in the YouTube video “Yellow Fever With Soul” in 2015. Some of the stereotypes included spoofing Asian accents, suggestive comments about genitalia, and a black man eagerly gesturing to a sign of a fried chicken restaurant.
Since 2016, over 20 complaints from officers and office staff have been filed against the Beverly Hills Police Department. Allegations include harassment, discrimination and failure of the Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli to take the proper corrective measures. Spagnoli became the first female Police Chief for the BHPD, after Police Chief David Snowden retired after holding the position for 11 years.
“When a law enforcement agency engages in discrimination, that can be a danger to the community,” said Attorney Brad Gage, to KTLA News. Gage is representing seven employees who filed complaints against Spagnoli. Officers say that the video was circulated through the department, even playing during roll call.
Larry Wiener, the Beverly Hills City Attorney, issued the following statement that reads:
“The video was produced on the officers personal time and does not represent the values of the Department.
We are prohibited by State law (the Police Officers Bill of Rights) from discussing any matters of individual discipline, however, the department became aware of the video and addressed the issue at that time.
The City is committed to maintaining a respectful work environment free from harassment, retaliation and discrimination and provides ongoing harassment prevention training to employees.
With regard to Chief Spagnoli, this video was filmed well before she arrived at the City. But, she has been successfully addressing the recommendations of a 2015 report from independent consultant ‘Management Partners.’ That report, which was authored before Chief Spagnoli came to Beverly Hills, discussed an absence of teamwork within the Police Department, and a failure of Police Department leaders to inspire respect.”
In June 2015, the Beverly Hills City Council received recommendations to update and enhance hiring and management practices for the BHPD. In January 2015, Management Partners, a consulting firm specializing in public agencies, reviewed police department practices for filling sworn officer vacancies and current disciplinary procedures. The firm interviewed 25 individuals, including individuals of the Police Department, City Council, and other City executives. The firm analyzed hiring and turnover data since 2012, and conducted a confidential survey of all Police Department employees.
Major themes from the interviews from Management Partners include:
-There is a common desire to hire qualified candidates quickly to fill vacancies without compromising the department’s vision statement.
-Hiring standards for ideal candidates are not articulated or consistently applied. The phrases, “we hire the best of the best” and “uncompromised excellence” were cited.
-The Personnel and Training Bureau plays a key role in the hiring process.
-There is a concern that qualified candidates are being failed out of the first interview.
-There were comments about a lack of diversity within the department.
-External factors may be impeding recruitments. These include pay and benefits compared with other local agencies, a three-tiered pension formula potentially limiting lateral hires, and the location and lack of affordable housing within a reasonable commute time.
-Human Resources staff members are not involved in all aspects of
the hiring process.
-The departure of 15 police officers within a two-month period in 2011 contributed to concerns about pension plan reductions.
-The department has not been able to meet the need to fill the significant number of positions on a timely basis.
-A succession plan is not well articulated, and there is insufficient mentoring to help develop officers to successfully compete for higher levels.
-Morale has been affected by police officer vacancies, with mandatory overtime being required in patrol resulting in “burnout” of affected personnel.
-Departure of highly tenured sergeants and officers has depleted the department’s institutional knowledge about policies and practices, and knowledge about the community.
-Communication should be improved within the department.
That process produced 23 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Beverly Hills Police Department’s hiring and disciplinary procedures. Recommendations incorporate areas such as recruitment, promotions, the disciplinary process, communication and team building.
Management Partners’ project team members used various analytical techniques in reviewing the recruitment and hiring practices of the Beverly Hills Police Department, which included examining documents provided by the City, conducted interviews, developed a hiring process map to identify and analyze the various steps in the hiring process, analyzed turnover data since 2010 and hiring data since 2012, and conducted a web-based confidential employee survey.
Some of the lawsuits accuse Spagnoli of marginalizing certain employees’ roles and wrongly favoring others. Shen was promoted to Detective after the video came out and Scott Dowling was promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant by Spagnoli even after plaintiffs claimed that he laughed about the video.
Captain Mark Rosen, one of the employees who has filed a complaint against Spagnoli, alleges his position was downgraded because he is Jewish and over the age of 40.
Rosen accused Police Chief Spagnoli of downgrading his job because of his religion, making remarks about his nose, and asking, “Why do your people wear those funny hats in church?” A judge is expected to make a decision this week whether or not there are grounds for Rosen’s lawsuit to move forward.
The newest lawsuit was filed by Officer Anne Marie Lunsman who argued that she was passed over for a promotion because of her gender, race, age and religion. The first of several lawsuits filed against the BHPD is set to head to trial in November 2018. While the “Yellow Fever With Soul” video has been removed from YouTube, it may be shown to a jury in court.
“As the current Police Chief, I am proud of the progress this department has made in continuing to take steps in the right direction, which include focusing on our 5 Core Values; Honor, Integrity, Respect, Courage and Commitment and keeping the community of Beverly Hills safe,” said BHPD Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli in a statement.
Written By Caitlyn Hunter and Katie Trojano