A Second Former Garcetti Senior Staffer Testifies Mayor Was Aware Of Rick Jacobs' Inappropriate Behavior
Another former senior staffer has testified that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his top aides were aware of sexual harassment and bullying by political consultant Rick Jacobs.
The new allegations were unveiled Tuesday in a legal deposition, part of a lawsuit by a former member of Garcetti’s LAPD security detail, Matthew Garza. During his years assigned to the mayor, Garza said in his lawsuit that Jacobs gave him unwanted hugs and shoulder massages, and peppered him with inappropriate sexual jokes and comments about his physique — behavior that was allegedly common knowledge in the Mayor’s office.
In the newly released deposition, Suzi Emmerling, who served as the mayor’s communications director from November 2017 to April 2019, said she spoke with four people who claimed they were sexually harassed or groped by Jacobs. They include current and former city employees.
LAist and KPCC are not naming the alleged victims who have not come forward on their own.
Jacobs was once a deputy chief of staff who left city hall to raise money for various Garcetti-backed projects and ballot measures. He worked closely with the mayor and city staff after his departure, leading efforts to explore a Garcetti 2020 presidential campaign.
Emmerling, a former deputy chief of staff to the Secretary of Transportation in the Obama Administration, described herself as a city hall outsider. She testified that when she joined Garcetti’s team, she was shocked at Jacobs’ outsized influence and seeming impunity in the mayor’s world.
“I figured out pretty quickly how much power Rick had, and I also figured out pretty quickly how inappropriate he was in many different ways,” Emmerling said. (She’s now the Chief Communications Officer for the Broad Foundation.)
I figured out pretty quickly how much power Rick had, and I also figured out pretty quickly how inappropriate he was in many different ways.
Early on, her own employees in the communications department warned her about Jacobs: “You know, he's sexually inappropriate, he's a bully ... he's got a lot of power,” Emmerling recalled them saying.
There were “countless” conversations about Jacobs among members of Garcetti’s staff, according to Emmerling — often revolving around a puzzling question: "Why would a politician keep such a liability so close to them?” The common speculation was that Jacobs would someday be named in a lawsuit against the city, Emmerling said.
She testified that one such conversation happened with Garcetti’s then-deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, who was recently confirmed as L.A.’s new City Administrative Officer.
“Matt Szabo told me he deleted any email he ever received from Rick within 24 hours because he thinks there would be a lawsuit with him involved one day,” Emmerling said.
Szabo did not respond to LAist’s request for comment. The Mayor’s office declined to discuss the allegation.
In his deposition from January of this year, Szabo denied witnessing any of the sexual harassment alleged in Garza’s lawsuit. “I don't believe that anyone who worked for the Mayor or works for the Mayor would find it in any way appropriate to conduct themselves in the way that was alleged in the lawsuit,” Szabo testified. “Because they would know that ... would not be acceptable behavior in the eyes of the Mayor and any of us.”
Jacobs Seen As Untouchable At City Hall
Jacobs’ close relationship with Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, and his dynamo skills as a political fundraiser, seemed to make him untouchable at City Hall, Emmerling testified — even for then-Chief of Staff Ana Guerrero, as described in this portion of the deposition:
Emmerling: “I said to [Guerrero], ‘Does the Mayor know how bad Rick is?’ and she — she said ‘Yes.’ And I said, 'Do you ever talk to the Mayor about it?'
And she said, 'No.'
And I said, 'Why not?'
And she said, 'Because it's not attractive.'"
Emmerling went on to say she took Guerrero’s answer to mean, “don’t complain … Nobody wants to hear anybody make a fuss.” In her own deposition earlier this year, Guerrero denied witnessing or knowing about sexual harassment by Jacobs.
(On Wednesday afternoon, LAist was provided this statement from Guerrero via a spokesman: “Suzi Emmerling shared with me her workstyle and personality conflicts with Rick Jacobs. She absolutely never discussed nor reported sexual harassment while she worked for the Mayor's office or after her departure. Had she reported harassment of any kind to me, or to any of the channels available to her, I would have taken immediate action.”)
Emmerling said interactions such as the one with Guerrero made her feel that reporting Jacobs’ behavior via city hall channels would have “absolutely” been a lost cause.
While she was working for the city, Emmerling testified, a staffer told her that Jacobs “touched him inappropriately at an event … touched him, his leg under the table or something like that.”
In response to a KPCC/LAist inquiry, the Mayor’s office responded, “the employee denies experiencing any sexual harassment.”
After Garza’s lawsuit became public in July 2020, Emmerling said, three former city employees discussed their own uncomfortable experiences involving Jacobs.
“I said, ‘Can you believe this?’" Emmerling testified, recalling a phone conversation with one of the ex-city staffers. “And he said, ‘You mean can I believe that the man who groped me the entire time at City Hall is finally being sued for it? Yeah, I can.’"
Another alleged victim told Emmerling that “not only she, but her fiance were groped and touched inappropriately by Rick for [the] entire time she was employed by City Hall.”
In a group text message conversation, a copy of which was included in the deposition, Emmerling and a handful of current and former mayor’s office employees discussed an L.A. Times article about the testimony of former Garcetti aide Henry Casas, who was deposed in December.
A woman who currently works in the Mayor’s office pasted a quote from the article: “Casas testified that it was “common knowledge” inside the mayor’s office, from the chief of staff to low-level aides, that Jacobs engaged in inappropriate behavior toward male employees.”
“I mean … he’s not wrong,” she wrote underneath.
Another participant in the chat who formerly worked for the mayor’s office jumped in: “He’s exactly right!”
“There goes his relationship with Ana,” she added, referring to Guerrero.
When Emmerling urged younger staffers who confided in her to report the behavior, she testified, the former city employees resisted — partly out of loyalty to Garcetti, and partly out of fears for their own job prospects.
“[One staffer] told me … she didn't want to talk to anybody about it because she didn't want to hurt the Mayor,” Emmerling said.
Another alleged victim “said he didn't really want all of the time he spent working for the Mayor to be disregarded if the Mayor’s career went up in flames … his resume would be, basically, no good anymore,” Emmerling testified.
Emmerling said she never personally witnessed inappropriate touching by Jacobs. Her working relationship with Garcetti’s political guru was “frosty,” she testified, and Jacobs was “abusive and demeaning” toward her.
Afraid Of Speaking Openly
Echoing other former city employees who have testified about Jacobs’ misconduct, Emmerling expressed fears that speaking out would be harmful to her career.
She said that in the weeks leading up to her deposition, she spoke with Carlos Singer, former chief legal counsel to Garcetti — someone Emmerling said she had once considered a friend.
“He told me that if I knew all of this stuff while I was in City Hall and didn't report it, then ... it's my fault, too,” Emmerling recalled. “[Singer] said ... if he were deposing me, he would tear me to shreds."
Emmerling said that Singer sounded “very angry” and his words “shocked” her. She interpreted the conversation as an attempt to intimidate her.
Singer left Garcetti’s team in February, taking a position as Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for Governor Gavin Newsom. The governor’s office initially declined to comment on the allegations to LAist/KPCC, but Singer subsequently emailed this statement:
"Suzi [Emmerling] contacted me, and we had a general conversation as friends and former colleagues about her upcoming deposition. There was absolutely no intimidation. It saddens me to learn that Suzi might have interpreted it that way. I did not and would never discourage her from offering whatever truthful testimony she might give."
And Garcetti's office issued a statement that said, in part: “No Mayor’s staff or former staff or anybody else has ever faced retaliation or intimidation for making any personnel complaints or offering testimony in this case."
No Mayor’s staff or former staff or anybody else has ever faced retaliation or intimidation for making any personnel complaints or offering testimony in this case.
“[Singer] said a lot of good people ... in City Hall are trying to do good things for the people of L.A.,” Emmerling testified. “And if I'm talking to people [about Jacobs], I'm creating an unnecessary distraction, making it harder for them to do so.”
Another former communications director, Naomi Seligman, also testified in a deposition unsealed earlier this month that Garcetti was aware of Jacobs’ behavior, and described her own experience of being victimized by Jacobs when he allegedly grabbed and kissed her in front of her city hall staff.
The Mayor and his top deputies deny knowing about any alleged inappropriate conduct by Jacobs. In his own deposition, Jacobs said Garza’s allegations of sexual harassment were false.
Garcetti was recently nominated by President Joe Biden as Ambassador to India. His nomination hearing is not expected to take place for several months.
This story was updated Wednesday afternoon with an emailed statement from Carlos Singer, a former member of Mayor Eric Garcetti's staff, and from Ana Guerrero, Garcetti's chief of staff who is on administrative leave.