A Torrance police captain is suing the city, alleging former Chief Mark Matsuda created a hostile work environment by sexually harassing women and making offensive comments, and that the plaintiff suffered a backlash when he complained.
Capt. Martin Vukotic’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges whistleblower retaliation. He is seeking unspecified damages.
Matsuda retired from the TPD in the summer of 2017, just months after being suspended for allegedly making hostile remarks about women, blacks, gays and Muslims. Matsuda was the department’s 11th chief.
A representative for the Torrance City Attorney’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Vukotic began working as a Torrance police officer in August 1995, his suit states. In 2014-16, Vukotic heard Matsuda “repeatedly display hostility toward his own female and/or gay employees” by referring to them and other women with a derogatory term, the suit states. Three of the targets of Matsuda’s remarks were City Treasurer Dana Cortez, former Manhattan Beach Police Chief Eve Irvine — now chief of the TPD — and Torrance police training manager Laurie Anderson, who the chief said had a “lesbian hairdo,” according to the complaint.
Matsuda said in 2015 that two female detectives could shower in his personal bathroom while the women’s locker room was being upgraded, the suit states. That same year, he made an inappropriate comment about the ancestry of a sergeant who was born in Poland and also was an Army veteran, according to the suit.
In May 2016, Matsuda said he could use a key to enter the city manager’s office and have sex with a woman on the city manager’s desk, the suit states. That same month, he said a female officer who had complained about how she and other gay employees were treated “looked like a dude,” the suit states.
Matsuda said in September 2016 that he “wanted to try out a defibrillator on his female detective’s chest” in reference to a woman who was married to one of the chief’s subordinates, the suit states.
After Vukotic reported Matsuda’s alleged inappropriate conduct to human resources, he was told to “go home and sleep on whether he actually wanted to file the complaint,” according to his suit.
After Matsuda left the TPD, his interim replacement, Michael Browne, told the plaintiff that the City Council and city manager “think you are the devil for reporting misconduct against Chief Matsuda and they want to lynch you,” his suit states. “They think Chief Matsuda is a saint.”
Vukotic alleges the “decision-makers” for the city retaliated against him for complaining about Matsuda by denying him a promotion to deputy chief even though he was the most qualified person. The city instead named to the position a captain who did not want to join Vukotic and another captain in coming forward about Matsuda, the suit states.
The adverse employment actions have cost Vukotic lost pay and other benefits, according to his lawsuit.