By BenitoLink reporter, Jack Foley
A lawsuit claims that a Hollister City Councilman running for election to the San Benito County Board of Supervisors ordered the workplace harassment in 2006 of a female co-worker when he was a Gilroy police sergeant.
Councilmember Jim Gillio denies the allegation.
At the rank of captain, while being eyed as a future police chief, Gillio in 2015 took an injury-related retirement from the Gilroy Police Department, where he had worked for 10 years.
The assertion about his behavior is contained in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court in August by former GPD communications supervisor Patricia Harrell against Gilroy and its police department.
It was filed a little over a year after Harrell, a 26-year GPD veteran, was let go for allegedly mistreating trainees, which she denies.
Harrell claims her refusal to condone a departmental culture of alleged sexual promiscuity made her unpopular and also contributed to her being terminated.
Recounting a conversation she says in her court filing that she had with another police officer in 2006, Harrell suggests that Gillio’s alleged actions were part of a larger effort by detractors to make her work environment miserable. As the second-most senior female employee after then-police chief Denise Turner (now retired), Harrell says she was mistreated because she is a woman and was disliked within the male-dominated department.
Here is what the lawsuit alleges:
“In contravention of her request, the officers continued to improperly communicate via radio and phone when speaking to the Communications Center dispatchers, and they were advised to stop acknowledging Ms. Harrell in any way, in retaliation for her having attempted to instill greater professionalism with respect to the communications between the officers and the dispatchers.”
It goes on to allege that when Harrell confronted a police officer she’d known since he was a teenage police cadet about why she was being ignored and mistreated, he “got very emotional and began to cry and stated, ‘I’m sorry . . . we f….d you . . . I can’t look at you because I feel bad . . . we were told by and he was our sergeant [Gillio] to f..k with you and we were all brand new officers, so you got f….d with that.’”
Gillio told BenitoLink that the officer in question told him shortly after the lawsuit became public last year that the conversation described by Harrell never took place.
“This just never happened . . . absolutely not,” Gillio told BenitoLink on Feb. 23.
He emphasized the importance of public scrutiny of public officials and their behavior.
“As public officials, I believe it’s very important for us to be accountable and as transparent as we can. I am happy that BenitoLink is looking into this,” Gillio said.
Citing instructions from the city’s lawyers, the Gilroy police officer in question and Gilroy Police Chief Scott Smithee declined public comment. Neither is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Nor is Gillio a named defendant. The allegation about him is one of many against GPD personnel, including sworn officers, high-ranking administrators, staff, police cadets, as well as spouses and officers’ girlfriends.
Former chief Turner, who retired in 2016 and whose last name is now Sellers, called the lawsuit “salacious and outrageous.”
A hearing is scheduled in May on a city motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
As for Gillio, Sellers told BenitoLink, “Jim is a good guy, a great commander, one of the brightest people who worked for me; I trust him 100 percent.
“He was a solid person who rose up through the ranks on his own merit and got promoted to the rank of Captain. It broke my heart that he ended up having to take a retirement. He was positioned to be chief of police and to this day I respect him and appreciate that he is giving back to his community.”
At Hollister City Hall, City Manager Bill Avera said his staff works well with Gillio and has had no issues with the councilman.
“It has been a pleasure working with him, he has a ton of integrity,” said Avera, who in his position serves at the pleasure of the council, which makes Gillio one of his bosses.
Harrell and her lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm in San Jose declined to elaborate on the Gillio allegation when contacted by BenitoLink.
Harrell was terminated three years prior to being eligible for full retirement benefits. She claims her termination was illegal, hurt her financially and has made it difficult for her to find another job.
The case was first reported on Aug. 17 in the Gilroy Dispatch. The article did not include Gillio’s name but provided an internet link to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges gender and age discrimination, sexual harassment, assault, negligent infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and violations of Harrell’s civil rights. It seeks unspecified damages.
The original defendants were the city, its police department and Harrell’s former union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The case was moved to the federal U.S. District Court for the Northern District California and has added as defendants Gilroy’s human resources director, Sellers, two captains, a former captain since demoted to police officer, a communications supervisor, a union business agent and up to 50 unnamed individuals.
The lawsuit describes allegations of what it characterizes as, “a culture of sexual promiscuity, harassment, intimidation and sexual assault within the GPD.”
Gillio is not implicated in any of the sexual allegations.
A husband and the father of a daughter, Gillio, 43, was raised in San Benito County and helped run his family’s business before going into law enforcement. He now is the owner and manager of Central Ag Supply.
In April 2017, Gillio was chosen over eight other applicants to fill the District 4 council seat of Roy Sims, who resigned because he was moving outside the district.
In October, Gillio announced his candidacy for the District 4 seat on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors and is actively campaigning for that position.
As a retired public employee, he receives a CalPERS pension of $75,000 a year.