Progressive News Briefs

Progressive News Briefs
Image of Fresno Police chief Jerry Dyer

Fresno Police Chief Accused of Racism

A lawsuit, filed in Fresno Superior Court in February, says that Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer’s ringtone for Cynthia Sterling, an African-American former City Council member, is a slave song: “Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’ bread.” The lawsuit also alleges that Dyer mimics stereotypical slave dialect, making comments including “Yessa massa, I is yo pet” and “Um hum, I’m the mayor’s boy, I’m the mayor’s boy, yes’um, I’m the mayor’s boy.”

Dyer is alleged to have repeatedly made derogatory and racial comments and/or actions relating to different races, including, but not limited to African-Americans and Japanese, which include the following:

  • “You know brothers can’t resist watermelons.”
  • “You know brothers love melons.”
  • Routinely refers to African-Americans as “brothers.”
  • During a meeting discussing fist strikes to the face, Dyer commented that fist strikes to the face should never occur, unless it is a brother, because brothers don’t have bones in their noses.
  • Dyer’s cellular phone ringtone for Blong Xiong, a Southeast Asian City Council member, is an Oriental sounding ringtone.
  • Dyer refers to a female Japanese Police Department employee as his “little geisha girl.”
  • Dyer makes offensive and demeaning comments about women, including but not limited to, 1) comments about a Police Department employee’s clothes and cleavage, 2) commenting that an employee must be out looking for a husband and 3) comments about certain female Police Department employees never having to pay for drinks when they go out socially.
  • Dyer has made offensive remarks relating to charging the County of Fresno an administrative fee for administering a grant, stating “Good, rape them (laughing), and make them feel they liked it.”
  • Dyer on numerous occasions has in a demeaning manner referred to City Hall being run like a “sorority” because Mayor Ashley Swearingen and her chiefs of staff are primarily women.
  • The deputy city manager required Police Department employees to place their hands upon Chief Dyer and pray over him in order to cast away evil spirits while at City Hall.

The lawsuit, which is available at, was filed on behalf of Robert Nevarez and Sharon Shaffer, who both work for the Fresno Police Department.

Dyer’s attorney responded to the lawsuit by saying that the allegations have been investigated and that they dispute what Nevarez and Shaffer have said. They claim that “the investigation lasted in excess of five months, with numerous persons interviewed by the investigator. Her conclusion was that she found no hostile work environment existed in the department. It is obvious that the plaintiffs are disappointed that their allegations were found to have no merit. Unfortunately, many of the comments that were alleged to have been made were either embellished, misstated, taken out of context or were never made.”

Nevarez and Shaffer, the plaintiffs in this case, have been on administrative leave since late last year. They are concerned about retaliation from Dyer if they return. The lawsuit states that the police chief has not responded well when confronted with other complaints.

An example of this threatening and bullying behavior includes, but is not limited to, when during a staff meeting Dyer stated that “he was sick and tired of the lawsuits against himself.” Dyer said “he did not have much money, but would not go down without a gun fight.” He further stated that “it was not enough to nick him, you would have to take out his carotid artery and he has lots of blood.”


Death of Farmworker Results in Probation and Community Service Time

A Stockton judge accepted a plea deal allowing criminal defendants to escape any jail time in the 2008 heat death of pregnant 17-year-old farmworker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez. United Farm Workers’ President Arturo S. Rodriguez said that “these needless tragedies will continue so long as government fails to protect farm workers.”

Maria Isabel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, made the following statement following the court’s decision:

“It has been three years since we lost our beloved Maria Isabel due to the irresponsibility of Merced Farm Labor. That day, my niece had been working for nine hours, in 100 degree temperatures. Merced Farm Labor did not even provide her with a cup of water, shade or training to protect herself from heat illness. It was only her third day on the job when she fainted due to the heat.

“The employer did not call 911 or any emergency medical attention, as required by law. They let her die without a care that she was only 17 years old, of her dreams or how her family would suffer. For them, Maria Isabel was only a farm worker who could be replaced. For us, the loss is eternal.

“This is a joke to us, as farm workers. There is more protection for the life of an animal than us. There are stiffer punishments for those that abuse an animal than those who abuse a farm worker.

“We are not in agreement with the plea deal. We will keep fighting until there is justice for the death of Maria Isabel. We know that many farm workers have died under the same conditions as Maria Isabel and they are never mentioned and there is no justice for them. Fifteen farm workers have died from heat illness and who has fought for them?

“We urge you, Judge Garrigan, that for the first time in history, you enforce the laws in the books and send this case to trial or give those who are responsible jail time.

“It would be an example to encourage other employers to be more careful with their workers. To treat them with dignity and respect at the workplace. Maria Isabel will never return to us, but her story and tragedy can serve to protect other farm workers in the fields and prevent future deaths.

“Our system of government repeatedly failed Maria Isabel and the other 14 California farm workers who died from the heat because of lax enforcement of the heat regulation designed to prevent exactly these types of tragedies. Unless farm workers can find a more effective way to protect themselves, these needless tragedies will continue.”

UFW President Rodriguez issued the following statement:

The life of Maria Isavel is not worth very much in the courts of justice of California. The government failed Maria Isavel at least four times—and it failed to protect the other 14 farm workers who died from the heat since Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger issued the state heat regulation in 2005.

  • First, in 2006, Cal-OSHA, the state work safety agency, fined the farm labor contractor that later employed Maria Isavel for serious violations of the heat regulation that later helped cause her death, including failing to provide shade and accessible water. Cal-OSHA never collected the fine.
  • Second, Cal-OSHA never inspected the farm labor contractor it fined or the vineyards owned by the Franzia wine subsidiary that hired the contractor. Maria Isavel died because violations that prompted the fine—no shade and accessible water—were not corrected and when she collapsed from the heat on May 14, 2008, the labor contractor failed to summon emergency medical aid—another gross violation of state heat rules.
  • Third, the government did not protect Maria Isavel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, when he was fired for meeting with Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office about his niece’s death. Doroteo got permission from his employer, another labor contractor hired by the Franzia subsidiary, to take the day off. When Doroteo returned to work the next day, he no longer had a job.
  • Fourth, the district attorney and defense attorney agreed to a plea bargain under which criminal defendants charged in Maria Isavel’s death would serve no prison time in exchange for probation and community service—without informing Maria Isabel’s family about the proposed deal.


Large Dairies in Central Valley Pollute Groundwater with No Consequences

The consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch released a report showing serious contamination of groundwater around large-scale dairies in California’s Central Valley. The report details how the agency charged with protecting groundwater in the Central Valley has been negligent despite knowing there are serious problems and calls on the governor to nominate strong appointees to the Water Board.

The report, What’s in the Water? Industrial Dairies, Groundwater Pollution and Regulatory Failure in California’s Central Valley, was jointly written by Food & Water Watch and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Using new data that had not been previously analyzed, it demonstrates that public and environmental health may be at serious risk due to groundwater contamination near dairies in the Central Valley and finds evidence that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWQCB) has not effectively enforced regulations.

“Half of the Central Valley’s drinking water comes from groundwater sources, but Governor [Jerry] Brown has been more focused on high-tech tunnels to siphon the Delta’s water to Southern California than groundwater that means life or death to Central Valley residents,” said Elanor Starmer, lead author of the report and Western Region director of Food & Water Watch.

“Under the watch of the Water Board, we’ve seen harmful levels of nitrates in the groundwater around most dairies and virtually no effective steps to fix the problem. We’re calling on the governor and state legislators to step up and protect people’s health.”

Despite years of pollution, the CVRWQCB failed to implement existing groundwater regulations for dairies until 2007, by which point the total number of dairy cows in the Central Valley had reached more than 1.5 million, generating a volume of waste equivalent to that of a human population nearly five times the size of Los Angeles.

“After years of ignoring groundwater pollution from dairies, the Regional Water Board belatedly adopted inadequate regulations that it now, under intense industry pressure, refuses to enforce,” said California Sportfishing Protection Alliance Executive Director Bill Jennings.

“Failure to protect groundwater not only threatens the health and safety of many thousands of Central Valley residents, it places additional stress on limited surface water supplies to the detriment of already degraded aquatic ecosystems.”

The full report can be downloaded at


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of the Community Alliance, was the editor of this newspaper from 1998 to 2014 and the author of several books. Contact him at

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