Garcetti faces new questions as top aide is accused of sexual misconduct
When the #MeToo movement swept the country in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, it was not long before Los Angeles City Hall faced questions about how it had handled workplace harassment.
Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated he didn’t know of any incidents when asked in 2018 by The Times if his office had dealt with harassment allegations. “I don’t think any office is ever immune,” Garcetti added. “I mean, I think jokes are told, things happen, people are survivors.”
Two years later, new questions are emerging about one of Garcetti’s top aides, former Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Jacobs, whom multiple men have accused of sexual misconduct.
The accusations — which Jacobs denied — have prompted some to ask for a more detailed examination of what happened and whether officials in the mayor’s office were aware of the allegations.
Los Angeles Police Officer Matthew Garza sued the city in July, alleging that Jacobs made crude remarks and touched him inappropriately. That lawsuit alleges that Garcetti and mayoral staff saw Jacobs’ behavior but didn’t do anything to stop it.
But a month earlier, Garza first outlined his sexual harassment allegations in more detail in a three-page complaint to state authorities aimed at preserving his right to sue. That complaint, which was reviewed by The Times this week, states that Garcetti spoke with First Lady Amy Wakeland about Jacobs’ behavior. That detail isn’t included in the civil lawsuit in July.
The name of the individual Garza said harassed him is redacted in the complaint, but the details match those found in the lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court. The complaint states Garza was subject to inappropriate comments in the mayor’s presence.
“In fact, Garcetti has discussed with his wife that [Jacobs’] behavior would one day be held to account,” the complaint states.
Asked about that section of the state complaint, Diana Wells, an attorney for the officer, told The Times on Friday that Garza was present when the mayor and his wife discussed allegations about Jacobs’ sexually harassing behavior at their home in 2016.
The attorney said Garza was also present when the couple was in a car with Garcetti’s Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero when Jacobs’ behavior was discussed.
Asked why this detail wasn’t included in the state complaint, Garza attorney Greg Smith said the initial filing is a general statement of facts and does not usually address the specifics.
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said the mayor didn’t witness any harassment.
“The city and mayor were not told of any allegations of harassment prior to LAPD Officer Garza’s lawsuit,” Comisar said. “These statements attributed to Mayor Garcetti, his wife and chief of staff are false.”
Journalist Yashar Ali alleged this week that Jacobs repeatedly and forcibly kissed him. And two men told The Times that the former deputy chief of staff also forcibly touched or tried to touch and kiss them.
The new allegations have the potential to cause political problems for the mayor, who has emerged as an important player in Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign and is talked about as a potential Cabinet appointee in a Biden administration.
Several L.A. City Council members support a push for a new law forbidding homeless people from setting up camps near the city’s new bridge shelters.
Jacobs said Tuesday that he will “take a leave” from his work amid increasing questions about the allegations. Jacobs, who worked for the city from 2013 to 2016, is a political consultant to Garcetti, a board member and treasurer for the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles and head of Accelerator for America, a nonprofit focused on economic development that he founded with Garcetti.
Jacobs didn’t respond to a request for comment about allegations of sexual misconduct made by Ali and the two other men interviewed by The Times.
When the police officer filed the lawsuit this summer, it got little public reaction at City Hall. In August, Garcetti publicly backed Jacobs by stating he didn’t think he should step down from his work.
This week, the tenor shifted after more allegations. Time’s Up, an organization focused on protecting workers, called for a “thorough and transparent investigation” into the allegations against Jacobs.
“Everyone who experiences sexual harassment or assault deserves to be heard and get justice,” said Latifa Lyles, vice president of advocacy and survivor initiatives at Time’s Up Foundation. “And justice starts with holding those who abuse their power accountable, no matter who they are.”
After the national reckoning over workplace harassment, Garcetti ordered new reporting protocols, unveiled a city website for workers to lodge allegations and hosted a panel at the mayor’s official residence on sexual harassment and assault.
He also ordered an overhaul of the city’s system for reporting misconduct so complaints can more easily be filed and catalogued. Previously, elected officials and departments could seek to deal with allegations internally, away from the public view, which made it difficult to know the total number of complaints lodged by city workers.
Around that time, The Times asked about if there had been any complaints of harassing behavior in the mayor’s office.
The spokesman also told The Times in 2018 that Garcetti’s office kept no records of the complaints of harassment because “city policies and procedures on sexual harassment did not mandate the preparation and preservation of formal, written reports in all situations.”
Garcetti’s office acknowledged that “inappropriate behavior” had been reported by staff members in his office but declined requests by The Times to provide details. A Garcetti spokesman would not detail the exact number of reports made by staff, even though some other city departments did release details.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said this week that what Garcetti’s office has released to this point about those complaints is insufficient because it relies on citizens to take his office’s word that it was dealt with adequately.
She said the city needs to provide information about the complaints, when they were filed and types of allegations made, if questions are asked about them.
“When it comes to a private company, it’s up to them and their shareholders what to make public, but when it comes to government there is an obligation to be slightly more transparent,” she said.
Some City Council members also weighed in this week, with Councilman David Ryu calling the allegations “truly upsetting.”
“All Angelenos have the right to a safe workplace free from harassment,” Ryu said. “The city must ensure that sexual harassment and misconduct allegations are taken seriously and investigated, with a process that protects the privacy and confidentiality of those who are reporting the behavior.”
“All claims of sexual harassment deserve to be heard,” said City Council President Nury Martinez. “I expect all complaints to be thoroughly investigated and addressed.”
Other council members declined or didn’t respond to questions about Jacobs and the mayor’s office’s refusal in 2018 to release information about the inappropriate behavior.
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