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Letter to the Editor – Racism Sustained at Santa Clara Police Department – Opinion

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that racial discrimination in employment is illegal, as provided for under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law forbids employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The provision also prohibits employers from creating or maintaining a hostile work environment based on such protected characteristics.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act also prohibits discrimination and harassment based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, and other categories. This State Act calls upon employers to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct such conduct.

The Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) has been in the limelight for accusations of racism and discrimination by several current and former police officers of color. The officers claim to have been subjected to harassment, unfair treatment, and harassment based on race or ethnicity.  Some sustained complaints show that the Police Department has failed to address the systemic racism perpetuated by officers within its ranks.


To recount a few cases, recently, just when everyone thought things would be quiet for a while, SCPD made headlines again when Sergeant Jacob Malae filed a lawsuit against current police chief Patrick Nikolai, Captain Todd Cummins, and the City of Santa Clara, claiming systemic racism as the basis for him being passed over for promotion. This was hot on the heels of two retired Santa Clara police supervisors, Philip Cooke, and Brian Gilbert, pleading guilty to federal crimes that included a plot to frame part of their plan on a person of Samoan ethnicity. Coincidentally Malae is also Samoan.

According to internal documents released through a Public Records Act request, Nikolai, Cummins, and the City of Santa Clara settled the suit just before preparing for trial. The settlement included $100,000 paid directly to Malae and another $25,000 paid to Malae’s attorneys. In exchange for $125,000, Malae stipulated that Nikolai, Cummins, or the City of Santa Clara would admit no guilt. The initial settlement was agreed upon in August 2022. Malae’s party stipulated to wait until after local elections passed on November 8, 2022, with signing taking place just two days later, on November 10.

Another notable case involves ex-sergeant Kiet Nguyen, who infamously made local headlines for burglarizing a Target store. Arrested by San Jose Police Department, Nguyen resigned from SCPD, tendering his retirement package in 2015 before being convicted of his crimes. But years before his burglary arrest, ex-sergeant Nguyen was known at SCPD for making “racially inappropriate comments on several occasions.”

In a March 2010 Notice of Prosed Disciplinary Action, details of Nguyen’s racist comments in front of subordinates, superiors, and the community are documented as far back as June 2008. His inappropriate remarks were against fellow officers and African, Hispanic, and Polynesian community members. Although the Notice of Proposed Disciplinary Action is heavily redacted, phrases like “He’s from Africa, I make him call me Master” and “Nacho” and “Pineapple” are visible. Nguyen also mentioned the movie Ghost of Mississippi when speaking to others, that movie is about the murder of an African American Civil Rights activist.

On May 26, 2010, disciplinary action against Nguyen was handed down with a four-day suspension without pay from June 21 through June 24, 2010. Nguyen was required to turn in his police badge, city-issued firearm, and departmental ID card, and he was prohibited by law from acting as a peace officer during that period. Upon returning to duty, Nguyen was given back his badge, gun, and police powers and could keep his sergeant stripes and supervisory role. Chief Lodge notes that Nguyen received formal workplace harassment training in 2005 and 2008 but nowhere in the released documents is evidence that Nguyen was required to undergo further anti-racism or anti-harassment training before SCPD handed back his city-issued firearm, badge, and supervisory role.

In 2011 Nguyen’s base salary was $143,132, with consistent raises in subsequent years to $144,323 (2012) and $147,181 (2013). After his arrest for burglary in 2015, the City of Santa Clara served Nguyen notice of intent to terminate his employment on August 16, 2015. For seven years after Sergeant Nguyen’s explicit racial biases were revealed, residents and visitors in Santa Clara were subjected to him having powers of arrest as a peace officer without ever knowing of his unremedied racist history. And the City of Santa Clara let it happen.

In the first six months of this year, more than a dozen requests for public records have been filed with Santa Clara’s Police Department. The police chief has ordered staff to close all requests without response deferring to the City of Santa Clara. State law requires each agency to complete public records requests (CPRA) within 45 days of receiving the request. The City of Santa Clara has missed that response requirement on every CPRA. The few CPRA requests the City has responded to so far involved ex-officers who have already been convicted of crimes. However, CPRA requests involving officers still on the City’s payroll have gone unanswered.

The City of Santa Clara has the highest percentage of mental illness-related police shootings, has the highest number of ex-cops convicted for crimes in the Bay Area, knowingly employs racists in their ranks, and the current police chief paid off a complainant instead of defending his proclaimed innocence.

There should be changes in the City of Santa Clara, including (1) changing the current charter of electing a police chief to interview and appoint one and (2) getting rid of the current compromised police chief.  A glimmer of hope recently shined upon the city earlier this month, June 6, as Santa Clara’s City Council took the first step towards reforming its beleaguered police department. By majority vote, they decided to appoint a Charter Review Commission to evaluate putting a measure in March 2024 that would change the position of police chief from “elected” to “appointed.”

Discrimination at SCPD or any other police department is not only a legal issue but also a moral and social one. The continued occurrence of such cases greatly undermines the trust and respect between police and the communities they serve. It also stands in the way of the morale and performance officers need to uphold their duty and oath. That said, there is a need for the Santa Clara City Council to take swift and effective measures to eliminate racism and enhance accountability while promoting a safe and harassment free work environment within its police department.  They and the appointed Charter Review Committee can start by giving residents a voting opportunity to make the police chief directly accountable to the City Manager.


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