The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to pay $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a Los Angeles police officer who said he was sexually harassed by a high-level aide to former Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The council voted 13-0 to settle the 2020 lawsuit brought by LAPD Officer Matthew Garza, who served on Garcetti’s security detail and alleged that Rick Jacobs inappropriately hugged and touched him and made crude sexual comments over a period of several years.
The allegations gained national attention, launched an independent inquiry by a U.S. senator and dogged Garcetti as he sought to become President Biden's ambassador to India.
Jacobs acknowledged in his deposition testimony that he might have made sexual jokes in front of the security detail but denied harassing anyone.
“The city attempted to vilify Officer Garza when he spoke truth to power,” said Greg Smith, Garza’s attorney. “I applaud the 13 to 0 vote by the City Council, affirming the merit of this case. Enabling predators isn’t leadership — residents of Los Angeles deserved better.”
Jacobs, who helped raise money for Garcetti's 2013 campaign for mayor and guided his political career, didn't immediately provide comment.
Garza’s lawsuit claimed Jacobs’ harassment was witnessed by Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, which they both denied. Both testified that they didn't see Jacobs act inappropriately.
At least two other male city employees who worked under Garcetti gave deposition testimony in which they said that they received unwanted hugs, touches or sexual comments.
Another staffer told The Times that Jacobs’ harassing behavior was “something everyone talked about” in the mayor’s office.
The Times also interviewed two other men who claimed that they were groped by Jacobs.
A confidential memo by City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto's office sent to council members in September recommended settling. The memo cited the "high likelihood of an adverse settlement and recovery of damages and attorney's fees in excess of $5,000,000."
The memo, among other issues, highlights a photo taken during the 2017 U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami that shows Jacobs holding his hand over the crotch of another man. Garcetti stands nearby and gives a "thumbs up" pose.
"This photo raises concerns about the mayor's lack of awareness of Jacobs' sexually inappropriate behavior," the memo says.
Garza sought to leave Garcetti's security detail in May 2020 after expressing "unspecified mistreatment" to a supervisor, the memo says. He accepted a desk job with the same rank and classification, but lost the 4% salary bonus he earned working for the mayor. Garza's estimated economic damages are "$400,000 and growing," according to the memo.
The cost to taxpayers from the scandal extends beyond the $1.8-million payout. Records reviewed by The Times show that the city spent more than $357, 000 on various expenses, including a therapist’s assessment of Garza and litigation experts.
The city attorney’s office also hired investigator Leslie Ellis to examine the claims. Her report, which cost nearly $100,000, concluded that Garza wasn’t subjected to inappropriate behavior by Jacobs.
The allegations made by Garza were dismissed by some in the mayor's inner circle, who suggested Garza was angry at the mayor for statements he made about police following George Floyd's murder in 2020.
The scandal also consumed Garcetti's final years in office after Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) placed a hold on the mayor's nomination to be ambassador to India and conducted an investigation that found Garcetti "likely knew or should have known" about his aide’s alleged misconduct.
It took 20 months for Garcetti to be confirmed to the India post after his one-time mayoral communications director, Naomi Seligman, now a top executive at Whistleblower Aid, led the charge in telling senators about the allegations.
Seligman also accused Jacobs of forcibly kissing her and alleged Garcetti and others lied about Jacobs' behavior. Jacobs denied the incident, and Garcetti publicly questioned her claim of being kissed.
Whistleblower Aid's chief executive Libby Liu on Wednesday said that the "size of the settlement speaks volumes about the power of the evidence that these whistleblowers presented and the importance of holding enablers accountable."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.