Santa Clara Police Department Suffers Another Setback

By Robert Haugh

Last year was not a good year the Santa Clara Police Department. This year is not off to a great start either.

A federal judge turned down the City’s request to punish the attorneys who released damaging police body-cam video against a court order. It was video of an arrest officers made of a female high school student whose mother, Danielle Harmon, was injured when the police entered her home without a warrant.

The use of excessive force cost Santa Clara a huge $6.7 million settlement — the largest in the police department’s history.

Judge rules that Santa Clara Police body cam video should never have been shielded from public view.

Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins ruled that attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin had to pay the City its attorneys fees of $70,000 because they violated the court order. But he also said the video should never have been shielded from public view because the public had a right to know. So, now it’s publicly available.

This has to sting for a department that has had major morale issues. But the problems go back a few years.

  • In 2016, Police Chief Mike Sellers received a “no confidence” vote from his troops — the first time in Santa Clara history.
  • In 2017, the department paid the two largest settlements in Santa Clara history: the $6.7 million Harmon settlement and another one for $1.7 million when officers shot a man with rubber bullets who was allegedly having a mental health emergency. He survived but required major brain surgery.
  • In 2017, Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold said Sellers should step down because of poor leadership.
  • In 2017, questions were raised about why Sellers was demanding a raise given the poor morale and performance of his department on his watch.

Our sources say that the solution for the police department will require a major change in leadership and better officer training.

Since Sellers hasn’t received a raise — and isn’t likely to get one based on performance — he won’t run for re-election in 2020, some people speculate he may step down earlier. That may be what it takes for the department to regain the excellent reputation it used to have.

5 replies »

  1. They do not expect to be shot breaking into someones house? In this day and age no matter who you are, if you are forcing your way into someones “castle” you should expect to AND BE shot.

  2. No warrant. When the police can’t follow the law they deserve to pay up. “Officers were trying to arrest Burfine’s 15-year-old daughter who was a suspect in an arson at a snack shack at Santa Clara High School. Burfine refused to let police in without a warrant. Any competent officers would know that the U.S. Constitution requires a warrant before you enter a person’s house,” said Burfine’s Attorney Michael Haddad.

  3. The law says officers have to have a warrant to enter a home unless there’s imminent danger. A teenage girl doesn’t sound like imminent danger. The courts agreed (twice) and that’s why there was such a large settlement.

    The chief is responsible for his department, for following the law, and for training his department to follow the law.

    If these officers were poorly trained, it is the responsibility of the chief.

    I would not exonerate him, especially since his department on his watch has cost the city so much money. Let’s hope it stops by either the chief becoming a better leader or by moving on.

  4. After watching the video and not knowing all the details, I’m sorry we paid the settlement and didn’t go for a verdict. All she had to do was open the door and comply with the officers.

    It’s difficult for me to hang this on the Chief.

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