By Matthew Sommer
In a recent statement, the Santa Cruz Police Department criticized Councilman Tony Madrigal for alleged harassment and sexual harassment, causing City Manager Richard Wilson to call for action.
In an incident on March 29, Madrigal had a scheduled “ride-along,” where he rode downtown in a squad car with Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) Officer Bill Clayton.
According to the SCPD statement, Clayton was uneasy with Madrigal’s conduct, which included comments on a woman’s body parts.
SCPD Deputy Police Chief Patty Sapone released a document describing several incidents that occurred between the newly elected councilman and several police officers. The document reported that Madrigal told one female officer she “smelled so good,” and he wanted to “keep her in his car as air freshener.”
In an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP), Sapone reiterated her statement that Madrigal’s conduct was inappropriate.
“It was a significant insult to those in the community who dedicate their lives to protecting women,” Sapone said.
Sapone’s report was passed to Wilson, who wrote a letter to Madrigal. The letter informed the councilman that he violated the Santa Cruz Discrimination Harassment Policy in by making “inappropriate remarks.”
The letter advised Madrigal to apologize and review the Discrimination Harassment Policy, because “the city takes violations of this policy seriously.”
Soon after, Madrigal issued a press release, apologizing to the officers involved as well as “to each and every woman in this community.”
Madrigal acknowledged that the comments were a “significant insult” and that a public official needs to be more “circumspect” in his or her actions.
“I have learned from this experience and I am taking stes to grow as a person,” Madrigal told CHP.
Councilmember Cynthia Matthews spoke out immediately regarding comments in the SCPD report. Matthews said the comments were very offensive to women, and that the city’s reaction, including many letters calling for Madrigal’s resignation, reflects on the community.
Kathy Agnone, coordinator for the city-organized Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, said the commission wants to put the Madrigal issue on the city’s agenda.
Agnone criticized the part of Madrigal’s apology where he committed himself to undergo the proper “sensitivity training.”
“What was needed [from Madrigal] was an adherence to sexual harassment policies,” Agnone said.
Agnone said she is “quite distressed” about the situation and the lack of accountability for sexual harassment in current city policy. But something positive may come from the issue, Agnone said, if the topic encourages a conversation about sexual harassment issues.
“We do believe there is a value in our community to respect the dignity of women,” Matthews said.
Mirroring Matthews’ and Agnone’s beliefs, a motion to amend council policy was put on the agenda for the latest city council meeting.
This motion would extend a requirement to attend workshops on sexual harassment and cultural diversity to city council members. Currently, only city workers attend the workshops.
The City Council unanimously approved the measure in Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilmember Matthews showed support for the motion and possible further actions in reaction to Madrigal’s comments.
“It reinforces our commitment as a city that we don’t tolerate harassment and sexual harassment,” Matthews said. “We don’t just pay lip service. We need to demonstrate that we take these issues seriously.”
“I intend to honor [my family’s and friends’] support by not letting this experience detract me from continuing to work hard to help serve as a voice for those who don’t have a voice in our community,” Madrigal said. “I plan to continue my work o help make Santa Cruz a better place for everyone, including immigrants, renters, low-income people, young people, working people, and students, just to name a few.”
Mayor Emily Reilly did not return calls for comment.