Santa Clara Has Paid a Record Setting $8.7 million for Police Department Settlements during Chief Mike Sellers Tenure (Opinion)

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.


  1. If Jennifer Yamaguma has to stick up for the dept and allow Sellers to hide from bad stories, then maybe she should be appointed chief. We couldn’t do any worse.

  2. Since Sellers has been the chief the city population has increased from approximately 119K to 125K. That is not rapid growth.

    The poor morale and weak training of the department are Sellers fault. the lawsuits, judgments, and settlements are just the symptoms of the problem — and expensive symptoms.

    Sellers is an elected chief. He’s responsible for his department. The City Attorney, Mayor, and Council are not in charge of the dept and don’t explicitly or implicitly approve his policies and practices.

    But we all suffer from Sellers poor leadership. The law enforcement community in the County knows he’s weak. His troops know he’s weak. That’s why they voted “no confidence.” The council knows he’s weak. That’s why he didn’t get a raise. Heck, even the people of Santa Clara know he’s weak. That’s why he was re-elected by a whisker last year.

    Yes, Sellers should resign or be recalled.

  3. The City attorney nor anyone from the Mayor’s office has expressed their concerns about unacceptable police policies.
    They are complicit in all settlements.To blame the Chief and offer comparisons with the past is somewhat unfair. Ten years ago this city was smaller, the crime rate was lower, Levi Stadium didn’t exist and the population was less diverse, the homeless were mostly located in San Jose, not Santa Clara. The rapid growth of Santa Clara has stretched all public agencies to the maximum, especially the police.

  4. There you go again, Robert. You love bashing certain leaders in our city! I look forward to your libeling Caserta, Mahan, Kolstad and former employees like Rajeev Batra later this week while ignoring real stories like FPPC fines by Davis and Watanabe, or wasting taxpayer dollars by Gillmor or sadly the horrific comments by O’Neill about our heroes, cancer survivors. Why not write about those TRUE storied that HAPPENED?

    But you won’t, Robert because your are Santa Clara’s fake news and a biased blogger who is in the pocket of the appointed and disgraced Mayor!

  5. Mr. Herhold is right. I know the Police Chief is elected so he can’t be fired. He’ll have to do the right thing and step down.

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