LA Daily News: LA County settles with two harassed by cultists - Santeria

22 Mar 2001

LA Daily News
March 20, 2001
Tuesday, March 20, 2001
County to pay duo $85,000 over harassment
By Troy Anderson
Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Claims Board approved an $85,000 settlement Monday for two county employees who complained fellow employees hung a bloody cow's tongue from a tree outside the Lancaster welfare office as part of a Santeria death threat.

Department of Public Social Services eligibility workers Julie Scheuer of Lancaster and Kathryn Sierra of Palmdale alleged in a lawsuit they were victims of religious harassment after the cow's tongue was found hanging by a wire from a tree outside the entrance to the office on July 28, 1997.

Officials recommended settling the case because if it went to trial and the county lost, it could cost as much as $500,000 although the identity of those responsible was never determined, and no one was disciplined.

The settlement agreement, which includes a confidentiality clause, is final. Because it is less than $100,000, it does not require approval of the Board of Supervisors.

"We believe that a jury may conclude that Julie Scheuer and Kathryn Sierra were each subjected to harassment, discrimination and retaliation because they made complaints about their supervisor giving preferential treatment to members of the Santeria religious group before the hanging of the cow's tongue," wrote Deputy County Counsel Ruben Baeza Jr., in a report to the Claims Board.

Scheuer and Sierra, and the supervisor could not be reached for comment Monday. A confidentiality agreement clamped on the case prevents the lawyers from talking about the details.

Scheuer and Sierra claimed the act was a ritual of the Santeria religion and was intended as a death threat.

Santeria is a syncretic Afro-Caribbean religion that melds Catholic practices with non-Christian beliefs about spirits, hexes and blessings, and practices such as animal sacrifice.

Scraps of paper bearing the names of Scheuer, Sierra and 12 other workers were pinned to the yellow-painted tongue outside the office on East Avenue K.

Some of the notes contained maiden and middle names, information that could only be obtained from confidential personnel files, they said.

They claimed the tongue was hung from the tree by their supervisor and fellow employees because they were not members of the religion and had spoken out against the supervisor as a result of the "perceived favoritism that was extended to members of this religion," Maeza wrote in his report to the panel.

In their lawsuit, they alleged their supervisor and various employees became members of Santeria in the early 1990s and one employee was "a high priestess."

A sheriff's investigation found the tongue represented a Santeria ritual but was not a death threat.

The investigation found two or more department employees carried out the ritual in an attempt to prevent employees from gossiping or speaking negatively about the supervisor. But there was insufficient evidence to determine who carried out the acts, investigators said.

No charges were ever filed.

Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Valdemar, an expert on ritual sacrifice and the occult, said the incident is not the first time county employees have been the target of animal sacrifice rituals.

"There have been other cases, even cases involving prominent people in county government as the victims," Valdemar said. "These rituals are a lot more widespread than most people think."

Brian Lew, spokesman for the Department of Public Social Services, said the department and the former supervisor at the Lancaster office had no comment on the case.

"We continue to enforce the county's existing policies on discrimination," Lew said.


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