San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed on Wednesday called for a federal investigation into accusations that the police union president abused his authority by thwarting the city’s recruitment efforts. A day later, Reed and his political consultant found themselves on the receiving end of calls for an inquiry.
In an Oct. 22 letter to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Reed cites a Mercury News op-ed by former police cadet Elyse Rivas. In her article, Rivas said that Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, told her and other recruits during an academy orientation that they should leave the department because it didn’t help the union’s political goals.
“He said that our employment with the department did not help the POA’s cause in proving Measure B was killing the department’s recruitment capabilities,” Rivas wrote in the Oct. 17 column. “He urged us to find jobs elsewhere.”
There has been some uncertainty about what exact words Unland used. Rivas recanted her original claim that he specifically said cadets should “quit,” as she wrote in the op-ed, but that the message was the same. Unland called her a flat-out liar in a piece posted to the union’s website.
In his written appeal for an investigation, Reed tells Haag that the overriding message Rivas heard is consistent with what Unland has been telling POA members for the last two years.
“These actions appear to be part of an ongoing, coordinated effort by the Police Officers Association to undermine the San Jose police department’s recruiting and hiring efforts in order to achieve personal and political benefits,” Reed states. In his letter, the mayor attached a message Unland sent to his members debating the ethics of hiring people who would have to accept a second-tier pension plan. He also included an email in which the POA president asked retired officers to boycott the city’s efforts to hire them as contractors.
But the narrative took a sharp turn Thursday.
Former SJPD officer Aaron Ettinger came forward with an affidavit, signed under penalty of perjury, claiming that Reed’s political consultant, Victor Ajlouny, asked him to lie about Unland to get him fired. Ettinger said Ajlouny felt the union president had been lying to officers and the public.
“He then told me: ‘I’m trying to get Jim Unland’s ass fired,’” Ettinger’s said in his affidavit.
Ettinger said he disagreed with Ajlouny about Measure B, which the police union has blamed for the exodus of officers from the department. The department has gone from 1,400 officers to fewer than 900 active duty in the last six years. The union has assisted this to some extent by holding job fairs for outside law enforcement agencies.
In his affidavit, Ettinger said he quit the force less than a month after graduating from the academy because he realized, after speaking with Unland, that the pension and disability benefits “could get worse before they get better.” He said he was making about $14 an hour after accounting for all the pension contributions, deductions and taxes.
Ajlouny denied Ettinger’s allegations in a phone interview with San Jose Inside on Thursday afternoon. He said he will file a lawsuit if Ettinger doesn’t retract his statement. Ajlouny’s attorney, Edward J. Kraus, sent a letter to Ettinger on Thursday demanding he retract his declaration.
“I’ve known this kid. We lived next to them since he was 10 years old. He and his brother used to come over all the time. We used to do 4th of July at his parents’ house,” Ajlouny said. “I don’t know what’s happened to him, but he’s obviously gone off the deep end.”
The POA posted Ettinger’s sworn statement online, complete with a screen shot of the call log between the former officer and Ajlouny.
Meanwhile, county supervisor and mayoral candidate Dave Cortese, who has aligned himself with the unions in opposing Measure B pension reforms, offered his first critical comments of Unland’s leadership this week. He said Unland and his Measure B-backing nemesis, Councilman Sam Liccardo, have both created a toxic environment, and both sides need new leadership.
“I’d like to see a scenario when neither he (Unland) nor Councilmember Liccardo are in charge of negotiations anymore, because they have presided over the loss of 400 police officers,” Cortese said at a political debate earlier this week.
Cortese spokesman Vince Rocha told San Jose Inside that his boss has made that assertion throughout the campaign, but no one noticed until the cadet scandal broke this week.
“Supervisor Cortese has stated previously that all sides have been obstinate, which has resulted in the loss of over 400 police officers in our city,” Rocha said.
Sources tell San Jose Inside that Unland is leaving the department later this year, so a change in leadership has been expected for some time.
UPDATE: Mayor Chuck Reed’s spokesperson Michelle McGurk sent San Jose Inside the following statement about alleged interactions between him and former police cadet Elyse Rivas. “Neither Mayor Reed his staff has spoken with Ms. Rivas prior to or since her opinion piece was published [sic]. We first saw the piece when it was published by the Mercury News. Mayor Reed is calling for an investigation because the allegations are serious and disturbing.”