Testifying on the city’s behalf Monday in trial of a lawsuit that four members of the Beverly Hills Police Department brought over their alleged mistreatment by the current chief — the first woman to head the force — a civilian employee told jurors that two plaintiffs and a retired captain said they did not want to see a female police chief hired.
Helen Elliott is in charge of coordinating training for both sworn and civilian members of the BHPD. Contradicting what the plaintiffs have testified, she said that since Chief Sandra Spagnoli’s arrival in 2016, the department has taken on a more progressive approach that has made it more diverse and where equality and opportunity are given priority.
Spagnoli’s alleged remarks about the age, religion and sexual orientation of members of the department are at the center of the lawsuit, which was filed against the city of Beverly Hills in December 2017 and is now being tried before a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The plaintiffs in the current case are Lieutenants Renato Moreno, Michael Foxen and Shan Davis, and civilian employee Dona Norris, who is the BHPD’s public safety 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 testimony on behalf of Rosen. 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.
After standing up for Norris and refusing to comply with Spagnoli’s alleged order, Davis was passed over for promotions and transferred to a less prestigious position, the suit alleges.
After finding out that Norris was gay, Spagnoli refused to provide her the necessary support staff and eliminated her promotional opportunities, according to the complaint.
Capt. Mark Rosen, who is Jewish and retired last year at age 60, also sued the city and settled before trial for $2.3 million.
But in her testimony, Elliott said Rosen, Davis and Foxen all said before Spagnoli was hired that they did not want to work for a female police chief. Davis additionally said he would make it “difficult” for any woman given the job, according to Elliott.
Elliott, 76, said that after Spagnoli was appointed, she increased the diversity of the department in her hiring.
An interim chief was in charge when Spagnoli was given the chief’s job. Her permanent predecessor, Dave Snowden, held the job for 12 years.
According to Elliott, while Snowden gave the department captains significant authority in decision-making, Spagnoli took a more hands-on approach while also taking into consideration the input of her captains.
Elliott said she has not heard Spagnoli, 51, make derogatory comments about department members because of their race or age.
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