Civil Rights Group Questions San Jose Police Chief Move to Prosecutor’s Office

By The Vanguard Staff

SAN JOSE, CA – After nearly three decades as a San Jose police officer—three years as San Jose Police Chief—Anthony Mata announced Tuesday he’s stepping down to head investigations at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

But, since being appointed as San Jose’s top cop three years ago, Mata has pushed for transparency in the police department scandalized by a series of officer misconduct incidents.

And at least one area civil rights group criticized the move.

The San Jose Mercury News reported “Mata will have a team of 90 investigators who typically conduct criminal probes in tandem with prosecutors, and will report to District Attorney Jeff Rosen, taking over from recently retired Moises Reyes. DA Lt. Melisa Meyer has been selected to lead the bureau until then.”

Among officer-related “problems” Mata has faced in recent years was a fentanyl overdose of an officer in 2022, and the arrest of another officer on allegations that he was caught masturbating while working a domestic disturbance call; Mata personally walked the latter officer out of police headquarters in a public showing that SJPD posted on social media, said the Mercury News.

“Under Mata, the department underwent an independent audit of its hiring and backgrounding practices, and random audits of officers’ body-camera videos. He has also voiced support for changing state law to allow police agencies to publicly release names and details about officers involved in high-profile misconduct without running afoul of rules protecting personnel information and officer privacy,” wrote the Mercury News.

Former officer Mark McNamara resigned after internal affairs investigators uncovered a trove of racist texts that he sent to another active officer and a former officer. In the texts, McNamara viciously insulted a Black man who he severely injured in a controversial shooting last year.

“Mata has said he was legally prohibited from releasing the identities of the two people corresponding with McNamara. But last week, under a federal court order, the city turned over more of McNamara’s text messages and the other officers’ names to the attorneys of K’aun Green, the man McNamara shot in March 2022. Many of the racist texts insulted and threatened Green and his legal team,” according to the Mercury News Tuesday.

Mayor Matt Mahan said in a statement, “Tony has won both the trust of the neighborhoods he protects and the respect of the force he leads. He’s strived to build a more transparent and accountable police department, work I know will be carried on by whoever follows in his footsteps.”

However, Raj Jayadev, co-founder of the South Bay civil-rights nonprofit Silicon Valley De-Bug, said Mata’s move further illustrates the need for truly independent police oversight.

“Chief Mata now running the investigation unit at the DA’s office just makes these interdependent relationships that much more blatant—and independent accountability of police outside of the DA’s office that much more necessary,” Jayadev said. 

The activist added, “We have SJPD officers who have threatened to kill Black people … Whoever takes Chief Mata’s seat at the SJPD is stepping into a department that much of the community is deeply wary of.”

The Mercury News wrote “last month, the police department released a ‘strategic plan’ outlining its goals for how it planned to rebuild public trust. It contained several general objectives — bolstering proactive policing, increasing community collaboration, improving equity within the department, modernizing the complaint process, and creating a five-year staffing plan — but did not detail any policy specifics.”

Mata’s predecessor, Reyes, was under a cloud in his final year at the DA’s office: NBC Bay Area reported in July, citing unnamed sources, that “he was the subject of several workplace discrimination allegations that were sustained by the county Equal Opportunity Division.” 

The NBC report detailed how “Reyes is alleged to have made inappropriate comments or insults about women and working mothers, made an offensive remark about a transgender emoji, and mocked a Black prosecutor.” 

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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