A San Jose police officer was reprimanded for trying to kiss a woman in 2020, but critics say the San Jose Police Department and its auditor are downplaying a clear-cut case of sexual harassment.
According to the most recent Independent Police Auditor’s report, the officer “could have been innocently, albeit misguidedly, mistaken as to whether the complainant wanted him to kiss her.”
“Show me where it was an innocent act,” Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of Next Door: Solutions to Domestic Violence, told San José Spotlight. “Show me how you discern, San Jose PD, that there is a circumstance where this could be innocent behavior. They can’t answer that.”
According to the report, the officer in uniform approached a girl at a mall kiosk and asked for her name and age. He then returned an hour later and shook her hand while pulling her in for a kiss, which the complainant refused.
The report said that after the complainant’s refusal, the officer told her he planned to retire in eight days. The incident was caught on camera.
SJPD’s internal affairs department sustained the incident as conduct unbecoming of an officer, which the independent police auditor agreed with after first review.
Conduct unbecoming of an officer is defined as a violation that includes an on or off duty officer acting in an indecent manner that reflects poorly on the department.
SJPD spokesperson Christian Camarillo told San José Spotlight that the officer is no longer employed with the department, but refused to say whether the officer resigned or was fired. Camarillo would also not release the officer’s name or say if he was disciplined.
Councilmember Sylvia Arenas questioned the wording of the police auditor’s report at last week’s City Council meeting.
“I want to address the sexism in that statement, ‘innocent albeit misguidedly,’” she said.
According to Shivaun Nurre, independent police auditor, the incident report was written that way because that was the officer’s defense against his actions.
“The interpretation could be that this is what the officer is professing,” she said, adding that the department found the officer’s account of the incident disingenuous.
Arenas also voiced concerns over how the officer would view his act as innocent.
“I don’t even know why that would be a question when you’re working… Why would you even have that doubt?” she asked.
Peralez-Dieckmann found it disturbing that the incident was classified as conduct unbecoming of an officer.
“You have taken sexual harassment and reduced it to, ‘Well it’s a behavioral thing. You need to behave around women,’” she said. “That is very revealing for the attitude of the department and even the independent police auditor for sustaining that.”
Nurre said the incident was classified as conduct unbecoming of an officer because the internal affairs department did not file it as a criminal case.
The independent auditor’s report raised larger concerns over police misconduct.
“We definitely need to pay attention to what a report like this says about the system, even the independent police auditor’s review of this,” Peralez-Dieckmann said. “Is it biased?”
Peralez-Dieckmann also said the community needs to hold the city accountable.
“What are you doing in response to this report?” she said.