A civil rights group has put the city on the spot regarding rumors that police officers have put cameras under a desk and in the changing room of some of the city’s female employees.
Officials with the Modesto-Stanislaus branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raised the issue at Monday’s City Council meeting. City officials did not respond then and had little to say Friday.
“What was indicated at that meeting was there were rumors, and we won’t respond to rumors,” City Manager Toby Wells said.
When asked whether the city had investigated or was investigating the allegations aired at Monday’s meeting, City Attorney Mike Lyions said he was not ready to respond because he was not at work.
“I’m not prepared to give you an answer,” he said. “I ask that you submit your request in writing. I’m speaking to you on my day off. I want to make sure the answer I give is correct under the law.”
Wells and Lyions each added that, in general, the city is limited to what it can say about its employees because of privacy concerns. Mayor Chris Vierra and representatives with the Ceres Police Officers Association did not respond Friday afternoon to voice mails and emails seeking comment.
NAACP Modesto-Stanislaus branch President Frank Johnson said his organization had received phone calls over a couple of weeks from people saying officers had placed cameras under at least one desk and in the changing room. The callers did not leave their names or numbers, and he thought they were pranks. Johnson said he changed his mind last week when he was in a Turlock coffee shop and overheard a woman and two men talking about the allegations.
He said branch officials then decided to speak about the allegations at Monday’s council meeting. Wells said city officials did not respond to NAACP officials’ comments.
Johnson said he believes the allegations involve two or perhaps three officers. He said his organization is concerned the city has not protected or come to the aid of the female employees.
Johnson said since NAACP officials spoke at the council meeting, they have received about 15 phone calls, with the callers saying the rumors are true. He said these callers also have not left their names or numbers. He said the NAACP has not been able to contact any of the callers – including those who called before NAACP officials spoke Monday – because the caller IDs say the phone numbers are blocked, restricted or unavailable. It was not clear how many different callers there were.
This is not the first time the NAACP’s Modesto-Stanislaus branch has questioned Ceres. Branch officials opposed the city’s decision in June to release longtime Police Chief and Public Safety Director Art de Werk from his job. De Werk had been praised for improving relations between the city and its minority residents.