Ex-Cop Charges Homophobia, Chief Defends Department
by Lindsey Wallace
Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez took the witness stand Monday to defend himself, his department, and the City of Santa Barbara against claims of broken promises, homophobia, and discrimination filed by gay ex-cop Ruben Lino, who quit the force in 2003 after three years of service. In his civil suit, Lino attests that although he left the force because the work environment had become homophobic and hostile, he attempted to rejoin the force after Chief Sanchez promised him — twice — that he could have his job back if he wanted it. But according to Lino, when he applied for his former position department managers used the pretext of a bogus negative credit report to turn him down. Lino charged the department ignored his claims that the credit report was faulty and chose not to investigate. Lino charged further that the real factor behind his non-rehire was his sexual orientation; Lino had complained of homophobic slurs made by fellow officers before he left the force in ’03 and got the cold shoulder later.
But according to Sanchez, nonchalant on the stand, no such promises were made. Sanchez testified that Lino was a good cop whose evaluations were uniformly positive, but denied ever promising Lino he could have his job back. Sanchez said that he did check with City Administrator Jim Armstrong to make sure the city’s hiring chill would not preclude him from rehiring Lino, adding that he didn’t expect the background check to be any problem for Lino.
Sanchez testified he first heard of Lino’s concern about homophobic remarks by fellow officers — including references to a youthful sexual abuse victim as a “pillow-biter” and other gays as “freaks” — after the city attorney notified him that Lino had described such incidents in a sworn deposition on behalf of a gay landlord and fellow city employee who was suing City Hall for discriminatory promotional practices. (That claim went to a jury trial and City Hall prevailed.) Sanchez and Lino both agreed they met to discuss those allegations, but disagreed over what was said. Lino claimed he asked for an informal investigation and was upset he never got one. Sanchez said he ordered supervisors to be vigilant against harrassment.
According to Lino’s lawsuit, his relationship with other officers deteriorated after word of his complaint got out. Other officers were slower to provide backup, Lino said. After he became concerned for his safety, he decided to leave the department and further his education. But he changed his mind shortly afterward, he testified, while on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after moving to Washington, D.C.“I decided I couldn’t run from this and made the decision to take the Chief up on his offer,” Lino testified.
There’s considerable irony in the timing of the Lino trial, which is expected to last three weeks. Both Chief Sanchez and leaders of the police union have become increasingly concerned about the loss of officers and have been quietly lobbying the City Council for a 10 percent raise and more warm bodies. Although the department is budgeted for 141 sworn officers, currently there are only 126 on the force. By this summer, that number is expected to drop to 117. The money saved by not filling these vacancies either goes to cover overtime or goes back into the city’s general fund. Due to chronic budget shortfalls, the city has been eating into its reserves the last four years and the police department — like all city departments — has been subject to a hiring “chill.”
Santa Barbara has lost a few officers to retirement, but most of the departures come from officers seeking employment elsewhere, in counties where the pay is better. Police union spokesperson Sergeant Mike McGrew said the staffing shortfall is causing burnout among officers and could affect public safety. Assistant Chief Rich Glaus said the shortage was not affecting public safety, but it was eroding customer service. Councilmember Brian Barnwell estimated it would cost the city nearly $3 million to cover the cost of a 10 percent raise and bring staffing up to the budgeted level of 141. At the same time, City Hall is projecting an approximate shortfall of $1 million. “I’m not saying they don’t deserve it, but that’s a budget buster,” Barnwell exclaimed.