Former Garcetti aide says top mayoral advisor engaged in unwanted touching
A former staffer to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti testified he was repeatedly hugged and given unwanted shoulder massages by former senior mayoral aide Rick Jacobs — and witnessed similar treatment of a police officer now suing the city over the alleged advances.
Henry Casas, who worked for Garcetti from 2013 to 2018, made the allegations in a deposition he gave in December to attorneys for Los Angeles Police Officer Matthew Garza, a former member of Garcetti’s security detail who has filed a lawsuit claiming he frequently endured harassment by Jacobs. Casas is the first Garcetti aide to publicly allege improper behavior by Jacobs while he worked for the mayor, and his testimony could bolster Garza’s case.
“I definitely got hugged. You know, pretty much, you know, my biceps would get grabbed, right, squeezed. Every now and then, you know, I might be sitting down, he’d be behind me and do a — like a quick massage,” Casas said, according to a transcript of the deposition.
When asked by Garza’s attorney if he had done anything to invite the behavior by Jacobs, Casas replied, “Definitely not.”
Jacobs and an attorney believed to be representing him did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Casas testified that it was “common knowledge” inside the mayor’s office, from the chief of staff to low-level aides, that Jacobs engaged in inappropriate behavior toward male employees.
Garza sued the city in July, alleging that Jacobs made crude sexual comments, massaged his shoulders and hugged him during a period spanning from 2014 to 2019. According to Garza’s lawsuit, the mayor witnessed instances of the inappropriate behavior while Garza was his bodyguard and did nothing to stop it.
An LAPD officer who worked on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s security detail is suing the city, alleging he was sexually harassed by Rick Jacobs, a Garcetti advisor.
Casas, who did not respond to requests for comment, testified he did not witness any instances of misconduct by Jacobs where Garcetti was present. He also did not provide testimony to show that Garcetti knew Jacobs had acted inappropriately.
Garcetti, in a statement, did not address the specific allegations in Casas’ deposition. However, he said he never witnessed any sexual harassment by Jacobs and was not told about any such allegations prior to Garza’s lawsuit. Neither the mayor’s office nor the city’s personnel department received a sexual harassment complaint involving Jacobs, Garcetti said.
“Had I been aware of any allegation, I would have taken action to address it,” Garcetti said. “In my life, I have taken and always will take all forms of harassment extremely seriously.”
A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer declined comment on Casas’ allegations.
Jacobs, a former deputy chief of staff for Garcetti, is a longtime player in state and local politics. After the lawsuit was filed, Jacobs called Garza’s claims “a work of fiction” and promised to mount a vigorous defense of his reputation.
Shortly after, journalist Yashar Ali accused Jacobs of giving him unwanted kisses on the lips between 2005 and 2015. Two other men told The Times they were inappropriately touched by Jacobs. Jacobs, who had transitioned into an unofficial role advising the mayor and was running a city philanthropy for him, announced in October that he would take a leave of absence from those activities in the wake of the accusations.
Garcetti has insisted he never saw his key advisor engage in any inappropriate conduct. In his deposition, Casas acknowledged he did not tell the mayor about Jacobs’ behavior toward him or other men. He also said that he never confronted Jacobs or complained to other supervisors.
Casas, a veteran political operative, said Jacobs used the phrase “you feel so strong” with him while hugging him or grabbing his bicep. Jacobs also gave Casas quick shoulder massages “a couple of times” during meetings in Jacobs’ office, Casas said in his deposition.
“I sat down and, you know, he might have came into the room and gave me a quick, you know, four or five strokes there,” he said.
More men have come forward to say they were harassed by Rick Jacobs, who has taken leave from his role as an advisor to Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Casas also testified that he saw Jacobs subject Garza to unwanted touching as well. When an attorney for the city pressed him for details, he recalled two episodes in which Jacobs hugged or touched Garza. One was at Getty House, the mayor’s residence, and the other at City Hall.
In one instance, Casas said, Jacobs was outside of the mayor’s executive office, hugged the officer and told him, “you feel so strong.” Jacobs also complimented Garza’s eyes, Casas said, using words to the effect they were “beautiful” or “the prettiest.”
Garza never complained to Casas about Jacobs’ behavior but, after one of the hugs, made a face as if to say “here we go again,” Casas testified.
During questioning from the city’s lawyer, Casas described his departure from the mayor’s office, saying in December 2017 a high-level Garcetti aide told him it was time to “part ways.” At the time, Casas was director of Garcetti’s Office of Public Engagement.
Casas added that he did not want to be involved in Garza’s lawsuit, or to speak out against Jacobs, out of fear of being “blackballed.”
“I don’t want my name in the paper; I don’t want my name in anything,” he testified.
Garza’s attorney, Greg Smith, said Casas’ testimony verified his client’s claims and that other people scheduled to be deposed would make similar allegations against Jacobs.
Several other current or former Garcetti staffers also have given depositions in the Garza lawsuit. None have testified that they saw Jacobs do anything improper or were told at the time of his alleged misconduct, transcripts of the depositions show.
Ana Guerrero, who has served as the mayor’s chief of staff since 2013, testified that she did not learn of any sexual harassment allegations against Jacobs until shortly before Garza filed his lawsuit.
“The mayor and I discussed with each other that neither of us, and him specifically, had never seen the type of behavior that Matt Garza alleged in the lawsuit,” Guerrero testified. “I don’t recall the mayor ever telling me that he had seen Rick Jacobs behave in a manner that he disagreed with.”
Three other current or former mayoral staffers said they too did not observe Jacobs’ engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior.
Poonam Narewatt, a Garcetti aide, testified she never heard Jacobs make comments of a sexual nature. Narewatt, who staffed some mayoral events where Garza was present, said she did see Jacobs and Garza “shake hands and give each other hugs.”
“We all shook hands and gave each other hugs,” she said. “But nothing beyond that.”
Guerrero said Jacobs was not the subject of any formal complaints between 2014 and 2017, when he was a city employee. However, colleagues did complain informally about his work style, saying he was condescending or received credit for work that many people had been involved in, Guerrero said in her deposition.
Those complaints were not about anything of a “sexual nature,” she said.
Guerrero and several aides close to her discussed Jacobs on a “secret” Facebook chat group titled “Solid Gold,” Casas said in his deposition.
Between 2017 and 2020, when Jacobs was an outside advisor to Garcetti, two mayoral staffers complained that Jacobs was condescending and disrespectful, undermining morale. Guerrero herself acknowledged that working with Jacobs, who wielded considerable power, “wasn’t always ideal.”
“I mean, I didn’t always work well with Mr. Jacobs, but did I have concerns about it? I mean, we got a lot done and we figured out how to work together.”
Guerrero testified that last summer, after Garza filed his lawsuit, she advised the mayor to cut off contact with Jacobs while the city conducted an internal investigation. The break, she said, would help Garcetti avoid “negative media attention” and keep him from being distracted from the office’s primary responsibility — responding to the coronavirus and running the city.
A 2017 photo shows Rick Jacobs, a close advisor to Mayor Eric Garcetti, making a sexually provocative gesture. Garcetti, who also appears in the photo, said he didn’t know about the gesture or any alleged misconduct by Jacobs.
In November, The Times published a photo that showed Jacobs making a sexually provocative gesture while standing near Garcetti. Guerrero, in her deposition, called the image “terrible” and “embarrassing for us.”
“I have not seen [Jacobs] doing or acting in this sexually inappropriate way before this photo,” she said.
Garcetti, she said, did not see Jacobs make the gesture in the photo or remember it happening.
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