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.
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.