Elk Grove mayor accused of bullying women who politically oppose him

KCRA, August 8, 2020

Women in Elk Grove are coming forward with allegations that Mayor Steve Ly and his associates bullied and intimidated them for years.

"Steve Ly has been making it difficult, to impossible, for women to get involved in public service," said Nancy Chaires Espinoza, a board trustee with the Elk Grove Unified School District.

Chaires Espinoza says she ran for office against Ly six years ago. The harassment began after she lost the election, she said.

"At the time, I didn’t want to be perceived as the victim, the woman who was complaining 'about the process'," Chaires Espinoza said. "The one time I was Steve’s political opponent, he won. And I moved on the next day. But he didn’t. Ever since then he has spent a lot of time and energy, putting roadblocks in my way."

Chaires Espinoza says Ly recruited opponents to run against her in future elections, and also ran an online whisper campaign to tarnish her character and intimidate her.

"He sees us as a threat," added Bobbie Singh-Allen, also a board trustee with EGUSD. She says Ly's associates harassed her after she was appointed to the Elk Grove school board in 2012, because she testified in favor of one of his political opponents.

"The online harassment, the calls from blocked numbers, the bullying, name calling and shaming. I saw that first hand," Singh-Allen said.

Jacqueline Cheung, editor-in-chief of the Elk Grove Tribune, says she experienced harassment shortly after she published an op-ed by one of Ly's accusers.

"I just can't believe everything that has happened to me and my family in a few short weeks. I got a threatening phone call from a blocked number," Cheung said. "The caller said, 'If you don’t [remove it, expletive] is going to go down with you and your daughter.' I said, 'Is that a threat?' He said, 'It’s a fact.'"

Cheung says she filed a police report shortly after.

"A car in our driveway was egged. We were followed. We hired a bodyguard for our house. My life is surreal right now."

Jaclyn Moreno, Cosumnes CSD director ran a campaign alongside Ly in 2018. She claims he did nothing to stop intimidation directed towards her from one of his staff members, despite her repeated requests. She detailed her experience in a blog post.

"He had the chance to make a statement that he supports women and girls and he failed," she said.

The women's allegations are documented in a city staff report obtained by KCRA 3. The city council is now moving forward with possibly censuring the mayor at its next council meeting. The issue could also be referred to the Sacramento County Grand Jury for investigation.

"If he shows up and continues to show the past behavior of deflecting, demanding, shirking...gaslighting, then that's one conversation that will come out of that," said Councilman Patrick Hume.

KCRA 3 asked Hume what led the council to its decision.

"It's a pattern of behavior we've seen before, and when we've brought it to the mayor's attention, there's a lot of deflection and not much personal accountability," said Hume. "[The council] felt it was important [these stories] are heard, and we can at least examine the options, and give the mayor an opportunity to defend himself."

Censuring the mayor would not imply any legal wrongdoing on Mayor Ly's part. It would mean council members felt the mayor violated the city's code of ethics.

According to the staff report, other alternatives on the table beyond censure include:

  • Soliciting a letter of apology from Mayor Ly.

  • Encouraging Mayor Ly to attend anti-harassment or anti-bullying training.

  • Encouraging Mayor Ly to further educate the community about the Hmong clan structure, through public workshops or other mechanisms.

  • Refering this matter to the Sacramento County Grand Jury for further investigation, which would require a majority vote of the City Council.

All but the last item, a Grand Jury referral, would require the consent of Mayor Ly.

"There is a difference between criminality and the evidence you’d need there and just poor conduct," added Hume. "[This] probably just goes more towards the threshold of poor conduct."

Elk Grove police closed its investigation against the mayor, with the chief sharing the department's findings at the last city council meeting on July 22.

"Following comprehensive review by staff, review of statements, evidence, our detectives were unable to establish a crime had occurred," said Chief Albright.

Ly did not want to be interviewed, but he sent KCRA 3 a written statement, which reads in part:

"Over the past few weeks, I have had time to reflect on the disturbing and unacceptable incidents experienced by women in our community. They have spoken out about being harassed, intimidated, and bullied. I believe them and acknowledge their pain. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering they have endured. I realize that Jaclyn Moreno’s experience was hurtful and her needs should have been centered more. I am sincerely sorry she had to experience that.

"I do not condone any conduct of anyone who engages in disrespectful and harmful behavior towards women or any person. To any supporter or anyone who claims to be acting in my name as a way to show their support, this is not the way. Please stop such reprehensible behavior. This only further hurts those who have experienced and endured the negative impacts of such actions."

Ly also wrote he would like to meet with the women who have spoken out to "begin the process of healing," saying he would like to form an ethics commission to "review the rights and due process of all."

Singh-Allen is now planning to challenge Ly in the upcoming November election.

"We have a right to a seat at the table," she said.

"This is a pattern that surrounds this one man and nobody else," said Chaires Espinoza. "It's not politics as usual, and it's time for it to stop."