Beverly Hills police officers are at the center of multiple lawsuits against the city over a racially charged video made by two officers that they allege has been widely shared in the department, without reprimand from leaders.
The footage involves a series of sketches that play on harmful stereotypes of blacks and Asians, interspersed with the officers and another man dancing in primary-colored outfits. The tune is the same musical phrase often used to typecast something as Asian, heard in songs like "Kung Fu Fighting" and "Turning Japanese."
Seven police employees have filed separate lawsuits against the city alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation by Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, said Woodland Hills attorney Brad Gage, who is representing them.
According to the lawsuit, the video was made by officers Charles Yang and Stanley Shen in 2015 and posted to YouTube.
In the vignettes interspersed throughout the video, the officers are seen asking a black woman, "Have you ever dated an Asian guy?" before moving into suggestive questions about genitalia.
In another scene, they ask another black woman, "You like the chow mein or the flied lice?"
They're also seen standing with black man who triumphantly motions to a sign for a fried chicken restaurant.
"The 'yellow fever' video has a lot of racial stereotypes," Gage said. "When a law enforcement agency engages in discrimination, that can be a danger to the community."
Although the department has since ordered the officers to remove the video from YouTube, the footage has been openly passed around the agency, according to Gage. At one point, it was even played during roll call, he said.
The video was made before Spagnoli assumed the role of police chief. But a sergeant with the department allegedly continued sharing it, and the lawsuit claims Spagnoli failed to take corrective action as chief.
"One of the individuals in that video has apparently been promoted to a detective position since then, and it's alleged that a sergeant showed that video and then later was promoted to lieutenant," Gage said.
The plaintiffs also accuse Spagnoli of making inappropriate comments herself, specifically against Jewish people and Catholics.
City Attorney Larry Wiener released a statement in response to the allegations, saying the city supports Spagnoli and disciplinary action has already been taken against the personnel involved.
The video was produced on the officers personal time and does not represent the values of the Department.
We are prohibited by State law (the Police Officers Bill of Rights) from discussing any matters of individual discipline, however, the department became aware of the video and addressed the issue at that time.
The City is committed to maintaining a respectful work environment free from harassment, retaliation and discrimination and provides ongoing harassment prevention training to employees.
With regard to Chief Spagnoli, this video was filmed well before she arrived at the City. But, she has been successfully addressing the recommendations of a 2015 report from independent consultant 'Management Partners.' That report, which was authored before Chief Spagnoli came to Beverly Hills, discussed an absence of teamwork within the Police Department, and a failure of Police Department leaders to inspire respect.
Spagnoli also issued a separate statement, saying she is "proud of the progress this department has made in continuing to take steps in the right direction" as it focuses on its core values of honor, integrity, respect, courage and commitment.