By Robert Haugh
Last week, the Santa Clara Police department announced another financial settlement. This time it was for $1.7 million after officers shot a man with rubber bullets. He was allegedly having a mental health emergency and holding a knife to his own throat when officers shot him in the head. He survived but required major brain surgery. The amount is the second largest police settlement in Santa Clara history.
In a Mercury News story, Community Relations Director Jennifer Yamaguma said: “Our sympathy goes to the plaintiff and his family as we recognize the need for long-term medical care but do believe that the officer acted in good faith in a very dangerous situation per accepted police practices.”
Interestingly, Police Chief Mike Sellers was not quoted in the media unlike the last major settlement where Sellers was quoted in a prepared statement defending his department and their practices. That was in early October, 2017, when the department paid the biggest settlement in Santa Clara history: $6.7 million. That was because officers arrested a juvenile and caused an injury to her mother when they did not have a warrant.
After that settlement, there were calls for Sellers to step down. Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold wrote: “So how does this reflect on Sellers? First, remember that the Santa Clara department under Sellers has been dogged by issues of discipline, secrecy and bad morale. During last year’s election, the police rank-and-file approved a vote of no-confidence in the chief.”
Herhold who recently retired concluded Sellers should retire.
Others are now saying that Sellers, by remaining as police chief, is not just hurting the department but that his lack of leadership is costing the city lots of money, especially compared to his predecessors.
We took a look at financial settlements for the police department for the five years before Sellers became chief: 2007-2011. That’s when Police Chief Steve Lodge and his successor Kevin Kyle were in charge. According to city staff, two cases were settled for only $18,500.
During the five years Sellers has served as police chief, 2012-2017, four cases have been settled for $8.7 million, including the two most recent and largest. That’s 470 times more than the Lodge-Kyle years.
Chief Sellers now has the dubious distinction of being the first police chief to receive a no-confidence vote from his troops and presiding over the department when it settled the two most expensive cases in the city’s history. Maybe Herhold was right.