Taking the witness stand Tuesday in trial of a lawsuit that he and three other members of the Beverly Hills Police Department brought over their alleged mistreatment by Chief Sandra Spagnoli, a lieutenant testified that she said shortly after her arrival in 2016 that she did not want to stand next to a lesbian member of the force in a department photo.
Lt. Shan Davis said he met with Spagnoli shortly after she was hired to tell her it was important to be sensitive to members of the department who may have lifestyles different from hers or who have been through difficult personal situations such as a divorce.
He said when he told Spagnoli that civilian employee Dona Norris, the BHPD’s public safety communications and evidence manager, had a wife, the chief reacted by saying she didn’t want Norris to touch her.
The chief also gave Davis orders regarding Norris’ place in a department personnel photo, according to Davis, who quoted Spagnoli as saying, “Don’t let her get next to me in the photo.”
The Los Angeles Superior Court suit brought by Davis, Norris and Lieutenants Renato Moreno and Michel Foxen alleges that after finding out that Norris was gay, Spagnoli refused to provide her the necessary support staff and eliminated her promotional opportunities.
Moreno maintains he has endured “pervasive” anti-Latino and anti-Catholic discrimination under Spagnoli and that matters came to a head when he provided testimony on behalf of former Capt. Mark Rosen, who also sued the city for discrimination and retaliation and settled for $2.3 million. Moreno also alleges he was given fewer choice assignments, lost job benefits and pay and was subjected to improper internal investigations.
Foxen maintains he suffered a backlash when he notified management that Officer Lisa Weller, who is gay, was paid less than a heterosexual male officer with the same experience.
Davis was Norris’ supervisor and alleges Spagnoli directed him to lower Norris’ performance evaluation because she is gay. The chief never gave an explanation to justify lowering Norris’ evaluation, according to Davis.
During a social event in which Davis, Spagnoli and Norris were among the BHPD members in attendance, the chief treated Norris “like she had a contagious disease,” Davis testified. “She would not socialize with her.”
Davis said he was disturbed by the chief’s attitude toward Norris.
`I didn’t like seeing the chief of police bullying an employee,” he said.
Davis said that by setting such poor examples in treating some members of the department, it made it harder for him to tell his officers they should treat each other with respect and to do the same with members of the community.
Standing up for Norris came with a price in the way Spagnoli treated Davis compared to others, he said, telling jurors that the chief became dismissive of his ideas and thoughts.
“Anything that came out of my mouth was wrong,” Davis said.
He also alleged that Spagnoli called Catholicism a “cult” and made stereotypical remarks about Jewish people and money, often using the “you people” label in her comments. She also asked a Jewish member of the department if members of his faith celebrate Thanksgiving, Davis said.
Davis said the stress of dealing with the discriminatory and harassing work environment allegedly generated by the chief has taken its toll on his health.
“Physically I have stomach problems,” Davis said, struggling at times to maintain his composure.
Davis said he occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night sweating. He also testified he sometimes sees his blood pressure spike, a problem he says he never had in the past.
He also told jurors he has a different attitude when he heads out the door to his job every day.
“I go to work hating the job that I once loved,” Davis testified.
Spagnoli previously was the police chief for the cities of Benicia and San Leandro in northern California.
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