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Alleged homophobe Sandra Spagnoli is out as Beverly Hills Police Chief

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It took four years and millions of dollars but finally the City of Beverly Hills is parting ways with Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli. The alleged homophobe is officially retiring on May 15, but the Los Angeles Times reports that she’s taking vacation time between now and then.

Spagnoli’s arrival on March 4, 2016 from her previous post as police chief in the City of San Leandro was greeted with much fanfare, including a gushy feature in Vogue, as the first female police chief for Beverly Hills and a welcome self-described “change agent” after BHPD Chief Dominick Rivetti.

But the brassy glow began to tarnish two years later as the 35-year law enforcement veteran – who held a master’s degree in Public Administration and a BA in Human Services Management – became the subject, with the city, of multiple lawsuits filed by 21 current and former BHPD civilian and uniformed employees.

The Los Angeles Blade first reported on Spagnoli in Jan. 2019 after the LA Times reported that the city and the chief settled a lawsuit alleging racism and anti-Semitism for $2.3 million in Dec. 2018. Former BHPD Capt. Mark Rosen, the highest-ranking Jewish person in the department, accused Spagnoli of denying him promotions and making anti-Semitic remarks, such as calling yarmulkes “funny little hats.”

“I submit to you an insurance company isn’t going to pay $2.3 million unless it believes we have demonstrated a very strong case,” Rosen’s attorney Bradley Gage told The Times.

But the city’s mayor and city council gave Spagnoli good reviews for what they perceived was an improved restructuring of the BHPD. An internal assessment also found that “the majority of its employees were satisfied with the way the agency was being run,” The Times reported.

At least 21 current and former BHPD department employees, however, were unsatisfied and filed civil lawsuits or internal complaints accusing Spagnoli of a range of harassment, racism, and sexual misconduct.

Spagnoli flatly denied the sexual misconduct allegations and said she was “not racist” but didn’t deny she’d made racist comments. “When you implement change,” she told The Times, “you create some waves within an organization, which is what has happened here.”

The Blade focused on lawsuits alleging anti-gay/lesbian discrimination and retaliation filed by two out lesbian civilian employees and the police supervisors who supported them.

“What we see is a pretty consistent pattern of pretty awful behavior,” attorney Eric Gruzen told the LA Blade. Gruzen represented lesbian Lisa Weller, a civilian traffic control officer since Sept. 2001 who was promoted to Supervisor in March 2015.

“Spagnoli regularly made disparaging remarks about lesbians in the workplace,” Weller’s lawsuit alleged. “On one occasion while referencing lesbian women, Spagnoli stated: ‘the thought of what they do together makes me sick.’” A LA County Superior Court judge later dismissed her lawsuit.

Gage represented lesbian Dona Norris, the department’s civilian public safety communications and evidence manager. As part of Rosen’s lawsuit alleging retaliation, Gage presented “undisputed facts” filed Aug. 31, 2018 in Superior Court included a declaration from  Lt. Shan Davis: “Lt. Davis refused to lower the evaluation of a lesbian employee over 40 years old when Spagnoli asked him to do so. In response, Spagnoli called him disloyal.” Davis said he “believed Spagnoli’s order was based on Norris’ sexual orientation.

Davis also declared and testified in court last June, that Spagnoli said “eww” and “gross” upon learning Norris is a lesbian; said “Don’t let her touch me;” and said “Don’t let her get next to me in the [department] photo,” among other harassing and bullying behavior.

In Feb. 2019, Spagnoli called Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri Jean to say she wasn’t a homophobe.

“Essentially she was defending herself against the allegations,” Jean told the LA Blade. “I felt that it was critical that an independent investigation be conducted into the allegations,” and that Spagnoli “make a statement at the very least about what was acceptable and not in the operation of the Beverly Hills Police Department. She needed to make it crystal clear that discrimination of any kind—including against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people—would not be tolerated,” considering LGBTQ residents and the many LGBTQ events held in Beverly Hills.

That didn’t happen. The city stuck by Spagnoli as lawsuits went forward. Then, on July 9, after almost three days of deliberation, a jury awarded Gage’s clients Norris, Davis and BHPD Lts. Renato Moreno and Michael Foxen, who also alleged retaliation, collectively $1.1 million for workplace harassment but not for discrimination.

Beverly Hills, Gage said, “needs to realize that there is a problem in the 90210 that needs to be corrected, and the fact that so many other people are coming forward — with a jury finding four different employees are victims of harassment or retaliation — that’s significant.”

In Oct. 2019, a Superior Court judge overturned the jury’s award of damages to Davis, saying there was no evidence to support the verdict.

“It’s “mind-boggling to me” why the City of Beverly Hills continues to employ the police chief who has been accused of using derogatory terms for people…all kinds of offensive statements and behavior,” including “forcing male employees to have sex with her or they get no promotion,” Gage, who worked with attorney Dan Stormer on Sgt. Mitch Grobeson’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the LAPD, told the LA Blade.

The latest lawsuit against Spagnoli and the City was filed in the LA Superior Court on March 30 in which Sgt. Scott Dibble alleges harassment and retaliation.

Spagnoli “has been accused of sex with various different subordinates. Employees who engaged in sexual relations with the Chief were promoted. Those, like plaintiff who refused the quid pro quo were retaliated against, discriminated against and harassed. The City of Beverly Hills has recently paid over $7,300,000.00 in lawsuits for discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation. The number is expected to raise,” Gage wrote in the Dibble lawsuit. “In a recent police chief’s meeting, Spagnoli was referred to as a Sexual predator, for good reason.”

“To me, any employer who retains someone as long as they did in the face of so many different lawsuits from so many different long-term employees who had never brought claims of discrimination, retaliation or harassment ever in their long careers is very telling. Why did it take so long to get rid of the chief?” Gage asked.

While the LGBTQ community may not hold glitzy galas in Beverly Hills for months to come, hopefully the City of Beverly Hills will select a more culturally competent chief next time.

 

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Black AIDS Institute appoints Toni Newman as interim CEO

As Toni Newman steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation

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Toni Newman (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – The Board of Directors of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) announced the appointment of Toni Newman as its Interim Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Kemal M. Atkins as Managing Director this past week.

Newman is currently the Interim Executive Director at LYRIC – a non-profit in San Francisco, California that focuses on advancing the community and creating social change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth through education, career training and health advocacy. 

Dr. Atkins has been engaged to help further build infrastructure and management processes at BAI. Dr. Atkins, who will serve as a consultant on a temporary basis, has an extensive background in higher education and non-profit leadership where his expertise in crisis management, such as leading institutional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and expertise in building national wellness health models will provide much-needed program direction for BAI.

Founded in 1999, the mission of BAI is to stop the AIDS epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals to confront HIV. In its mission statement, the organization states that “BAI envisions a world where all Black people are free and flourishing without HIV and AIDS, free of stigma and shame, where Black health and well-being are paramount. With a foundation in advocacy and policy work, BAI works towards improving the health and wellness of Black people through research, community efforts, and clinical work.

As she steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation.

Ms. Newman is a distinguished Faculty Member at the Transgender Strategy Center in Los Angeles, where she advises non-profit organizations on engagement with transgender and nonconforming communities. In addition, she is the Chair of the Board of Directors for TransCanWork based in Los Angeles.

“Ms. Newman has a wealth of knowledge in non-profit management, budget and finance, and human resources and operations,” BAI stated in its statement. “We’re excited that she has agreed to serve as our Interim CEO as we continue implementing our transition plan to find a permanent, innovative executive staff leader.”

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Los Angeles

LGBTQ+ ally City Councilman Kevin de León announces run for mayor

De León currently represents Council District 14 that takes in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and El Sereno

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Kevin de León from campaign advert (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – Standing in front of a group of enthusiastic supporters Tuesday at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León announced that he was joining the mayor’s race for next year’s city elections.

Councilman de León, a Democrat, is the third city elected official to announce his intention to seek the mayor’s chair after current Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was elected for a four-year term in 2013 and again in 2017- who’s limited to serving no more than two terms, was picked by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to India on July 9, 2021.

Born in Los Angeles of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, raised by a loving, hard-working single mother, de León, 51, got an education and spent 12 years in Sacramento, rising to become the President Pro Tem of the California Senate, authoring and passing legislation and making history. It was his bill that then Governor jerry Brown signed into law making California a “sanctuary state”—a law that was upheld by a federal appeals court.

In an August 2018 interview with former Los Angeles Blade Editor Karen Ocamb, he reflected on his relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’ve always been very close to the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community even before I even knew all the initials that keep growing,” de León says with a laugh during an extensive phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade. “It’s always been my core set of values that every human being deserves a real opportunity to succeed, regardless of who they love and regardless of the hue of their skin and regardless of their legal status. That is embedded in my DNA.”

De León learned to care about LGBT people as a child from his mother and aunt around the kitchen table.

“My mother got a third grade education and my aunt even less,” he says. “I was very young and they were talking about a gay friend, a colleague of theirs. I didn’t understand. Obviously, they didn’t understand themselves. But they spoke with such affection, such tenderness. And here were two immigrant women with limited formal education and the way they spoke so lovingly, tenderly, beautifully about their gay friend. I could deduce the person they were talking about was gay—they kind of spoke in code around me when I was just sitting there listening to them at the kitchen table. And it transcended ethnicity and legal status and poverty—that we’re all human beings and we deserve dignity and respect. That had an ‘Ah Ha’ impact.”

De León’s LGBT education continued as he picked his mother up from her work as a housekeeper at convalescent homes. “She had quite a few gay colleagues with her and I just remember they were just so beautifully nice with my mother and my mother with them and that had a huge impression on me of the universal values of treating everybody with dignity and with respect. So when there is a discriminatory blow against anyone in the LGBTQIA community, I feel that blow equally.” 

De León, 54, is by far the most prominent Latino running. Fluent in Spanish, he represents a district that takes in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and El Sereno, as well as much of downtown, where a development boom has fueled huge growth over the past decade, KTLA reported.

Two other candidates — Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Atty. Mike Feuer — have been campaigning for several months. The race also features two business leaders: Jessica Lall, who heads the downtown-based Central City Assn., and real estate broker Mel Wilson, who has been involved with several San Fernando Valley business groups.

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Hermosa Beach Pride Lifeguard Tower is here to stay

“The rainbow tower is beautiful and has become a symbol of this community’s love and support for LGBTQ rights,” said Supervisor Hahn

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

Hermosa Beach — Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is announcing that the Pride Tower in Hermosa Beach is here to stay.  The 13th street Los Angeles County Lifeguard Tower, which was painted rainbow in June, was originally meant to be repainted its original blue color at the end of summer.  The rainbow paintjob will now be permanent. 

“The rainbow tower is beautiful and has become a symbol of this community’s love and support for LGBTQ rights,” said Supervisor Hahn, whose support paved the way for the project. “None of us wanted to see it painted over and I am proud to announce that the Pride Tower is here to stay.”

The idea to paint the tower originally came from lzzy Bacallao, a local non-binary teen. Izzy, who uses the pronouns they and them, was responding to the burning of rainbow-painted Pride lifeguard tower in Long Beach in March. The rainbow-painted tower was unveiled at the Hermosa Beach Pride event June 26, 2021.

The new Pride Tower’s rainbow paintjob will be maintained by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors which maintains all LA County Lifeguard Towers.   The Department of Beaches and Harbors also maintains another permanent Pride tower in Venice. 

Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles
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