BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
In an updated lawsuit, six Palo Alto police officers are claiming that a city-commissioned Black Lives Matter mural created a hostile workplace that caused them to lose sleep, not eat and forced them to go to the doctor.
The officers claim parts of the mural were harassment against all non-African Americans, and the painting put a target on their back in the latest version of their lawsuit.
The officers’ lawsuit against the city of Palo Alto was updated on March 14 after a Santa Clara County judge sided with the city and ruled the officers did not experience a hostile workplace. To win a lawsuit, the officers must show the city took action against them besides simply annoying them, the judge said.
So, the officers included more claims in their third complaint. They said they didn’t have an issue with the mural itself, but rather the painting of Assata Shakur in the letter “E.” Shakur is a civil rights activist turned fugitive after she was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973.
The purpose of the 245-foot mural on Hamilton Avenue in front of City Hall was to appease African Americans at the expense of all others, the lawsuit says. The officers say the painting of Shakur specifically was harassing, and they had to look at it every day they went to work between July and November 2020, when the city removed the mural.
Depression, anxiety and fear
The painting caused the officers to have depression, anxiety and fear, the lawsuit says.
“Plaintiffs feared daily that they would be target- ed, attacked or threatened at work because they are non-African-American police officers,” the lawsuit says.
The painting “placed a target on their back” and “forced plaintiffs to work under the pressure of a heightened sense of vigilance.”
The officers said they brought their concerns to City Manager Ed Shikada, and he acknowledged that the mural was insulting to some people.
“Some have called (the mural) brilliant and beautiful, while others called it idiocy and an insult,” Shikada allegedly said, according to the revised lawsuit. “I’ve also wondered what the reaction would have been if it were an image of Vladimir Putin or another character — would we be expected to paint it over? In any case, I find myself needing to choose where to draw a line on free speech and enabled expression. As someone that has sworn an oath to protect our Constitution, this is a line I’m not willing to cross.”
The officers say this shows Shikada knew the mural was harassing but did nothing about their complaints.
Early retirement possible
The officers say they continue to suffer humiliation, embarrassment and anxiety by working for the city. They say they may be forced to retire early.
The officers are asking for the city to pay them back for health care, loss of wages and attorney fees in an amount that hasn’t been determined.
Six officers filed the lawsuit: Eric Figueroa, Michael Foley, Robert Parham, Julie Tannock, David Ferreira and Chris Moore.
Moore retired last year, and in a retirement letter criticizing department leadership he called out the rest of the union for not joining in the mural lawsuit.
“The reasons I was given when I reached out to every member in the union about joining the lawsuit fell into three main categories: cowardice, apathy or fear of department retribution. All three are concerning,” Moore wrote.