Testifying on his own behalf Monday in trial of a lawsuit that he and three other members of the Beverly Hills Police Department brought over their alleged mistreatment by the current chief, a Latino lieutenant told jurors that his difference in rank with the city’s first female top cop made him reluctant to ask her for an apology for remarks he deemed offensive.
Lt. Renato Moreno said Chief Sandra Spagnoli asked him whether she should “dress Mexican” if she accepted his invitation to go to his home for a holiday party and called his faith, Catholicism, a “cult.” Moreno said that in both instances, he was “shocked” by the chief’s remarks and considered them inappropriate.
Spagnoli testified last week that she regretted if any of her remarks offended Moreno and that she would have ceased making such statements and apologized if he had spoken to her personally.
But Moreno said he was reluctant to confront the chief.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Moreno told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury. “This is the person who is at the top of the Police Department. I was scared to go up there and talk about it because it could have made a big impact on my future.”
The plaintiffs, along with Moreno, are Lieutenants Shan Davis and Michael Foxen, and civilian employee Dona Norris, who is the BHPD’s public safey communications and evidence manager.
Moreno maintains he has endured “pervasive” anti-Latino and anti-Catholic discrimination under Spagnoli and that matters came to a head when he provided deposition testimony on behalf of former Capt. Mark Rosen, who also sued the city for discrimination and retaliation and settled for $2.3 million. Rosen, who is Jewish, maintained Spagnoli make remarks offensive to people of his ethnicity.
Moreno said that after testifying on Rosen’s behalf, he was subsequently ordered by the department to have an unrelated report for a grand jury prepared two months ahead of the previous target date, impacting his planned vacation.
Moreno additionally alleges he was given fewer choice assignments, lost job benefits and pay and was subjected to improper internal investigations.
Moreno also said that shortly after the chief was hired, he overheard her talking to a Catholic priest and asking him several times if he would baptize her, then say she was not serious. He said she also heard Spagnoli suggest that a rabbi in the community may have embezzled money promised for the purchase of a drone for the department.
Moreno said that during a meeting in which she talked about the importance of loyalty, Spagnoli frequently glanced at Foxen.
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.
Moreno also said when Davis made recommendations during meetings, Spagnoli “didn’t give him the time of day.”
Moreno said he joined the BHPD in September 1996 and worked his way up the ranks to lieutenant. He said his parents were both Mexican emigres and that he was born and raised in Santa Monica. He said that when he was young, he helped some of his older relatives, who were gardeners, cut lawns in Beverly Hills.
Moreno said he was initially happy when he heard about Spagnoli’s hiring as Beverly HIlls’ first female police chief in 2016.
“It was an exciting time being part of history,” Moreno said.
Spagnoli testified last week that she was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and is now a practicing Catholic. She said she was reprimanded by city management for her remarks and ordered to undergo sensitivity training. She denied she was racist, homophobic or prejudiced against anyone because of their religion.
Spagnoli, 51, previously was the police chief for the cities of Benicia and San Leandro in northern California, where she grew up.
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