San Jose officials on Tuesday announced their pick for the top police job—department insider Anthony Mata will be the city’s new police chief.
Five of the candidates were either current or former officers with the SJPD, with four of them, including Mata, still with the department.
Mata replaces former Police Chief Eddie Garcia, who retired from the department in December. Garcia is now the chief of police in Dallas. The selection of a new chief comes after much turmoil for the San Jose Police Department, including racist Facebook posts, excessive force complaints and officers targeting and taunting peaceful protesters. The city is also facing a class-action lawsuit filed by the local chapter of the NAACP and 14 individuals injured during George Floyd-related protests in downtown in May.
Mata’s appointment has sparked controversy.
A day after the appointment, two Silicon Valley lawmakers denounced the city’s decision. Assemblymembers Evan Low and Alex Lee cited concerns over allegations of Islamophobia and transphobia against Mata.
Mata was one of two officers in 1999 to kill an unarmed man, Odest Mitchell, after firing 10 shots. The officers claimed they saw a shiny object in his hand, but it turned out to be his sunglasses.
A 2018 lawsuit claimed Mata led a police briefing in which Islamophobic comments were made to harass a Palestinian officer. Mata made remarks that the situation taught him to be “more careful in engaging with our workforce” instead of speaking out against racism.
Earlier this month, Julie Callahan, a former police officer who is transgender, claimed that Mata mistreated her and did not support her as Callahan transitioned, she said in a letter to Sykes. Callahan served in the department from 1981 to 2010.
“At a time when the Department needs bold leadership to move forward, San José has instead turned to an insider whose own record — killing an unarmed man, along with allegations of Islamophobia and transphobia — should immediately disqualify him from consideration,” Low and Lee said in the statement.
Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, received an email and phone call from the city manager’s office today assuring her the city had done its due diligence in investigating Mata and the incident with Callahan.
“They followed up on every allegation, they said and didn’t find any evidence. A lot seemed to come from the same source,” Antolovich said.
The center works with the police department to host cadets from the academy for informational panels with officers. Since working with SJPD, Antolovich said officers say the panels had a big impact on them.
“I will continue our relationship,” Antolovich said. “I’m trying to be the bridge between two groups of people who have a difficult time.”
Rev. Jeff Moore, the president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, said he’s excited that Mata has been appointed chief. Moore is looking forward to Mata’s leadership including a community response initiative for mental health care and homeless people.
“I have faith in Tony,” Moore said. “He and I had met and had conversations before he went for chief. He always seemed to be frank and open and wanted to listen.”
The department has faced heightened scrutiny and calls from activists to defund SJPD following the deaths of Jacob Dominguez and Anthony Nunez, who were both shot by police. City leaders, including Mayor Sam Liccardo, have opted to reform the department instead of defund it.
“We’re looking for changes and a wiser and a smoother touch, a community leader who will be driven by the community and hold police accountable,” Moore said.
In a community candidate forum in February, Mata pledged to work with advocacy groups such as SOMOS Mayfair and Silicon Valley De-Bug, as he’s been doing as deputy chief.
“Through these partnerships, I have been able to identify barriers and limitations and made the necessary changes to policy and procedures so that we provide just and equitable services,” Mata said.
The recruitment for a new chief had been delayed for weeks after the city received questions, including from San José Spotlight, about why no external candidates were being considered. The additional time allowed the city to include Justin Doll and Larry Scirotto, two outside candidates, in the finalist pool.
Walter Wilson, partner of the Minority Business Consortium, wrote a letter to City Manager Dave Sykes pleading the city to pick an external candidate.
“They brought in weak candidates,” Wilson said. “The majority of candidates were from San Jose. It’s as if the fix was in from the word ‘Go.’”
Mata will lead a department of 1,157 sworn officers and 558 civilian employees.
Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, the union that represents SJPD officers, said he’s looking forward to working with Mata to address the department’s understaffing issues which has increased response times. Rank-and-file officers are looking to Mata to improve relationships with the public and to keep businesses and residents safe, according to Kelly.
“Our union and the rank-and-file police officers we represent remain committed to working as collaboratively and cooperatively as possible with Chief Mata,” Kelly said.
Although critical of the selection process, Wilson recalled when Mata brought his daughter to a Black Lives Matter rally—a group that has repeatedly called to defund police departments across the country—in the summer of last year.
“A deputy police chief who brought his daughter to a Black Lives Matter rally might have some vision about what needs to happen, might have the wherewithal to reach out to communities of color and say, ‘I want to work with you, how can we bring about this change together? How can we make this a better place not just for your community but my kids,'” Wilson said.
This story will be updated.