The embattled police chief of Beverly Hills, Sandra Spagnoli, suddenly announced her retirement on Saturday, capping off a four-year tenure that saw the city pay out millions in legal judgements and settlements related to allegations of misconduct.
“During the Chief’s tenure, crime was reduced while the department increased diversity, public outreach, best practices and advancements in technology,” Beverly Hills City Manager George Chavez said in a statement. “We thank Chief Spagnoli for her service to our community and her three decades of public service in law enforcement.”
Spagnoli was pressured to retire after she was told that she had until Friday, April 24, to resign or face possible termination, according to NBC.
Beverly Hills hired Spagnoli in 2016 after the city’s former chief, David Snowden, stepped down amid scrutiny for drawing a second salary from a private sector job. The 33-year law enforcement veteran became the first female police chief in Beverly Hills’ history, earning her a glowing profile in Vogue and netting the city some badly needed positive press.
But within the next four years, more than 21 current and former employees—nearly 10 percent of the department’s workforce—would file lawsuits or complaints, accusing the chief of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and affairs with subordinates. Los Angeles recently reported that Beverly Hills had paid out $7.3 million in judgments and settlements connected to Spagnoli.
Spagnoli was named in a lawsuit filed on March 30 by Scott Dibble, an officer in the department. In that case, Dibble claims that he was “denied promotion several times, initially to sergeant because of his refusal to have a sexual relationship with the Chief,” according to the complaint.
The city settled the first of the lawsuits in December 2018, doling out $2.3 million to a Jewish captain named Mark Rosen who had accused Spagnoli of age and religious discrimination. Rosen, once the second-highest-ranking employee in the department, claimed in his suit that the chief belittled his religion and denied him advancement opportunities because of his faith, according to documents previously reviewed by Los Angeles. His complaint laid out a pattern of derogatory comments, describing incidents where Spagnoli allegedly referred to yarmulkes as “funny hats” and recounting a conversation in which she allegedly asked Rosen, “Isn’t it a sacrilege for your people not to invest money?” Rosen claimed that Spagnoli demoted him after he complained about her.
A subsequent lawsuit filed in 2018 alleges that Spagnoli carried on affairs with two subordinate officers, both of whom received promotions over more experienced officers who were not “banging the chief.”
A year later, a BHPD employee named Dona Morris also sued Spagnoli for discrimination. Morris, who is openly lesbian, claimed that the chief had expressed disgust and shunned her after learning of her sexual orientation and proceeded to pay her less than Morris’s straight, male coworkers. After her case went to court last July, a jury awarded her $250,000 for harassment.
Similar accusations dogged Spagnoli in her previous job as police chief of San Leandro, a Northern California city with twice the population of Beverly Hills. She was forced to publicly deny rumors of an affair with a subordinate officer. In 2013 she was named in a million-dollar civil rights lawsuit that accused the city’s Police Department of illegally entrapping gay men. The suit was eventually settled out of court.
Even after the flood of complaints and lawsuits began making their way through the courts and in the press, Beverly Hills remained publicly supportive of Spagnoli. “The city remains committed to the police chief and her efforts to reform the department, and condemns those who are undermining those efforts,” the city told Los Angeles in March. To better navigate the bad press, the city attorney’s office hired crisis PR firm Sitrick and Company, whose clients have included Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly.
When asked whether Spagnoli’s decision to retire stemmed from the litigation and controversy, city spokesman Keith Sterling said the “Chief informed the City Manager of her intention to retire.”
Beverly Hills City Manager George Chavez is expected to step up as Interim Police Chief in the coming weeks.
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