James Stevé, a Black police officer in the UC San Diego division of the UC Police Department, filed a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents and UCSD in response to racially-discriminatory actions he experienced while serving. In the complaint filed on July 23, Stevé claims that actions by the UCSD-PD and UCSD led to him losing financial stability and security, as well as suffering negative effects on his mental health.
Stevé, the plaintiff of this complaint, left the police force at UC Santa Barbara in January 2014 to UCSD-PD due to discrimination he faced in the force there. In an interview with The UCSD Guardian, Stevé’s lawyer, Darren Richie, stated that the lawsuit stemmed from systematic issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia within the UCSD-PD force.
The lawsuit alleges a number of incidents that Stevé faced in his time with UCSD-PD from year-to-year. Stevé and his team reported that within the first three weeks of his employment, a captain advised UCSD-PD to terminate Stevé because he wasn’t considered a good fit.
The allegation then claims that some UCPD officers made derogatory comments about Stevé around the middle of December 2014. However, he was reluctant to file a complaint at the time due to the department’s failure to investigate previous complaints.
Furthermore, the complaint states that an officer attempted to convince Stevé to sign a document that would have deducted local and union dues taken from Stevé’s contract, which Stevé refused to sign.
Following this, in 2015, Stevé found out that he needed medical treatment, but was removed from the Systemwide Response Team Squad which resulted in a 5 percent reduction in his paycheck. The complaint offers no reason as to why Stevé was removed.
The following year, Stevé claims that Captain Morris, another officer in the police department, constantly followed him while at work. According to Stevé, he noticed that there were unmarked UCSD-PD patrol vehicles outside of his home but was never notified as to the circumstances.
Additionally, the complaint notes that in 2018, Stevé was removed from the Field Training Program because of Chief Dave Rose and Sergeant Jones.
“Plaintiff was suddenly removed from the Field Training Program not due to merit, but rather because of Sergeant Jones and Chief Rose’s personal reasons,” the complaint states, with no further explanation of the reasons. Because of this removal, Stevé’s income was reduced by another 5 percent.
In response to these incidents as well as many others, Stevé had attempted to file numerous complaints and visited the Office for the Prevention of Harassment & Discrimination and UCSD Labor Relations. However, Stevé claims the UC Office of the President, UCSD, and UCSD-PD have not investigated any of his reports.
Stevé is suing UCSD and the UC Regents for four main violations: denial of First Amendment rights, violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and a violation of California Labor Code 1102.5.
According to Stevé’s filed complaint, the greatest problem is that even though Stevé brought attention to the issues within the force, UCSD-PD ignored him.
“UCSD-PD’s conduct alleged… has legally, proximately, foreseeably and actually caused [the] Plaintiff to suffer loss of financial stability, peace of mind and future security, and to suffer emotionally, physically, and mentally,” the statement read.
When The Guardian reached out to the Associate Director of University Communications Leslie Sepuka in an email, she promised that UCSD seeks to enforce fairness, cooperation, and professionalism to have a quality working and learning environment.
This is not the first time a discrimination case has been brought against UCSD-PD. According to the complaint, anonymous officers contacted UCSD and UCOP about several discriminatory practices at UCSD-PD, including homophobic comments made by Sergeant Melissa Luth in 2018. In June 2020, an officer penned a letter to UCSD Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews detailing systematic racial issues along with other systematic problems within UCSD-PD.
The Guardian reached out to other officers on the UCSD-PD force, Sheldon King and Arnold Moss. However, both declined to comment.
Richie pointed out that there have already been changes thanks to Stevé’s lawsuit.
“There were certain people in higher points of power that were… ultimately trickling down to cause these issues. Some of these bigger individuals have since been transitioned out, following this lawsuit,” Richie said.
In response to Stevé’s lawsuit, Richie claims that there has been some communication from UCSD, but plans to reach out to them to begin formal communications. He added that the lawsuit is still beginning.
“As far as litigation goes, [the lawsuit is] in relative infancy,” Richie clarified.
At the end of this lawsuit, Richie hopes that Stevé receives justice, but also that there are systematic changes to the UCSD system.
“It’s multi-layered. I definitely want my client … to see change obviously to his benefit,” Richie said. “And for him to be the catalyst that ultimately changes the dynamics [at UCSD and UCSB].”
The lawsuit remains in its early stages and there is no further information available. The Guardian will continue to monitor the case and provide updates when possible.
Photo taken by William Lotherington for The UCSD Guardian
This article was edited on October 18, 2021 at 7:36pm to clarify the circumstances behind Stevé’s leaving of the UC Santa Barbara police force and to better contextualize comments made by Ritchie.