By BILL HETHERMAN
LOS ANGELES – Lawyers for a Los Angeles Police Department officer who alleges he was sexually harassed by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s former senior adviser wants a judge to exclude any defense evidence during the upcoming trial of the plaintiff’s lawsuit that Garcetti himself may have been the victim of sexual harassment while in high school.
Officer Matthew Garza filed the lawsuit against the city in Los Angeles Superior Court in July 2020, alleging sex and gender harassment. According to Garza, for several years he was assigned to the LAPD’s police protection unit for the mayor. He says he was required to drive Garcetti to and from mayoral engagements and accompany him on out-of-town trips and that former mayoral adviser Rick Jacobs often accompanied them.
Garza alleges that Jacobs subjected him on “hundreds of occasions to unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and touching, including tight hugs and shoulder rubbing, from 2014-19. In an interview published Oct. 26 in Los Angeles Magazine, Garcetti said he was a survivor of sexual harassment in high school, but when asked who harassed him, he replied that he would rather not talk about it.
“Whether or not Mayor Garcetti was subjected to sexual harassment in high school in the 1980s has no relevance in this case, which deals with whether Garza was harassed by Rick Jacobs,” Garza’s lawyers argue in court papers filed Wednesday. “Further, it would be improper for (the city) to seek to introduce this alleged evidence in order to suggest or argue to the jury that, had Garcetti been aware of Jacobs’s conduct, Garcetti surely would have spoken out against it.”
Garza anticipates that the city will attempt to bolster Garcetti’s credibility by attempting to portray him as someone who, as a victim of sexual harassment himself, “surely would have stood up to sexual harassment by Jacobs had he witnessed it,” Garza’s lawyers state in their court papers.
“This would be an improper way of trying to affirm Garcetti’s credibility as it would amount to character evidence and would therefore confuse the issues, mislead the jury and create the substantial danger of undue prejudice…,” Garza’s attorneys further argue in their court papers.
Garza’s attorneys also want to exclude as evidence any reference to an investigation by attorney Leslie Ellis. When the city found out about Garza’s harassment claims in June 2020, it hired Ellis and her investigative law firm to conduct a probe into the officer’s allegations against Jacobs and report her findings.
After interviewing witnesses, Ellis presented a report in 2021 in which she concluded that Garza’s allegations were not credible and that the behavior he complained of never occurred. Garza’s lawyers maintain they have not been able to review documents related to the Ellis investigation.
“Numerous cases have recognized that it would be fundamentally unfair for a defendant to be permitted to rely on the adequacy of an investigation as a defense in a sexual harassment case where the plaintiff was precluded from discovering documents underlying and related to the investigation,” Garza’s lawyers maintain in their court papers.
Garza’s attorneys additionally want the defense to be precluded from telling jurors about a photo in the plaintiff’s home that contains the text “Welcome to LA” and depicts an LAPD officer holding up his middle finger out the window of an LAPD patrol car. Garza was questioned about the photo by a defense attorney during the third session of his deposition, which was conducted remotely.
“(The city) has not and cannot assert the photograph is relevant to whether the plaintiff was sexually harassed by Rick Jacobs or to whether the city should have taken corrective action to stop Jacobs’ conduct,” Garza’s lawyers state in their court papers.
In an excerpt of Garza’s deposition attached to the motion, the officer says the photo was a gift, but that he does not remember who gave it to him.
Jacobs also was deposed in the case. When asked if he ever hugged Garza, Jacobs replied, “It’s possible” and said he had the impression it was consensual. Jacobs acknowledged that some of his handshakes with Garza could have resulted in his pulling the officer into an embrace as “sort of a bro hug.”
Jacobs denied making comments in Garza’s presence concerning the size of male private parts or that he ever motioned the officer to sit on his lap.
The trial of Garza’s case is scheduled Jan. 9.