Updated, July 24: The Elk Grove City Council on July 22 responded to allegations by local women who allege they were harassed by associates or supporters of Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly.
More than 20 public speakers called in to the teleconferenced meeting to address these allegations, both against and in defense of the mayor.
After listening to those speakers, the council ultimately decided to place the issue on their next meeting’s agenda. At that Aug. 12 meeting, the council will consider actions that might be taken against the mayor.
Their options include censuring Ly or requesting that a Sacramento County Grand Jury investigation regarding the allegations be launched. The act of censuring is a formal expression of disapproval and is not an impeachment or removal from office.
Council Member Stephanie Nguyen demanded action in response to the allegations.
“We’re calling you here, Mr. Mayor, to fix this,” she said.
Ly, who has denied all of the allegations made against him, has served as Elk Grove’s mayor since 2016, when he was first elected to that position as the first Hmong mayor in the United States.
On July 22, Ly kept his defense against the allegation that he used the Hmong familial clan system to harass people.
“To suggest I’m sending people to threaten or to intimidate anyone is just false,” he said.
The allegations against Mayor Ly
The initial allegation against Ly was made on June 29 by Linda Vue, Ly’s former, 2016 campaign manager, on the online news site, Elk Grove Tribune.
Vue, who is Hmong, claimed through an op-ed piece on that site that after she expressed criticism of the mayor through her public Facebook posts, she was harassed by Ly through his associates who are part of the Hmong clan system.
That system was described by Vue as a family, social structure that is “called upon from time to time to act as a communal court to settle various community and family issues.”
In her op-ed, Vue alleged that her harassment came after she claimed that Ly prematurely implied on his Facebook page that Black Lives Matter protesters set fire to a south Sacramento business that was owned by his friend. It was later revealed that the fire was not associated with the protesters, and Ly deleted his post.
After posting Vue’s op-ed, Dr. Jacqueline “Jax” Cheung, owner and editor-in-chief of the Tribune, said that she received telephone threats against her family from strangers.
Cheung also claimed during the Cosumnes Community Service District’s July 15 meeting that stress from the harassment caused her to suffer a miscarriage and prompted her family to go into hiding.
Following the publishing of Vue’s op-ed, Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen on July 3 posted a statement on her personal Facebook page, claiming that she had also been harassed by Ly’s associates because she endorsed Ly’s school board opponent, Jake Rambo, in 2012.
Ly went on to serve with Singh-Allen on the Elk Grove school board until he was elected to the Elk Grove City Council in 2014.
Elk Grove School Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza, who ran against Ly for the Elk Grove City Council’s District 4 seat in 2014, recently wrote a guest commentary piece that was published on the Elk Grove News online news site.
In that piece, she claimed that Ly lied to her about not planning to run for the Council District 4 race in 2014. She also shared her belief that Ly orchestrated a “whisper campaign to tarnish her moral and ethical reputation” a month before the election.
In an interview with the Citizen earlier this month, CSD Director Jaclyn Moreno called upon Ly to “dismantle the patriarchy” in the Hmong clan system. He was one of the earliest elected officials to support her when she ran for the CSD board in 2018.
Ly and supporters push back against allegations
During the meeting, Ly charged that Vue’s allegation stems from her inability to acquire a job at City Hall after Ly was elected as mayor.
“Ms. Vue is entitled to express her opinions and belief,” he said. “But I said it before and I’ll say it again tonight: The job that she wanted four and a half years ago belonged to someone else at the time and was not hers to demand for it. Airing her personal grievances in City Council chambers is neither productive or helpful.”
Ly described Vue as a person with a “violent history” who has harassed and threatened him and his wife through social media, and has caused him to be fearful for he and his family’s safety.
The mayor directed his attention to Elk Grove Police Chief Timothy Albright, asking him to share whether a recently filed police report into his matter with Vue revealed any crimes.
Albright mentioned that the police were informed about multiple allegations of criminal behavior and that after a comprehensive review by detectives of the department, they were “unable to establish that a crime had occurred.” He added that the investigation is closed, pending their reception of any new evidence.
Among the public speakers at the meeting was Mai Foster, who described Vue as a person who has a “political vendetta” against the mayor and one who “publicly slandered the Hmong community.”
Foster claimed that after confronting Vue on these issues, she was threatened by Vue, and subsequently filed a police report.
“It’s Linda who is using the political system to control, intimidate, attack and silence women,” she said. “And the elected officials who have also been making disparaging statements regarding my entire ethnic community also need to be held accountable for potentially inciting hatred against us, especially during a time when Asian Americans have already been experiencing a spike in hate crimes as a result of the coronavirus.”
Linda Vue’s brother, Thay, also called into the meeting, and claimed that he was stabbed by Linda and hospitalized in 2010, but chose not to press charges.
Thay also said that Linda assaulted his then girlfriend at a family member’s party in 2016.
“As her brother, I see that she is mentally unstable, he said. “She fabricates stories to make herself to be the victim. So, don’t be deceived by this person.”
The City Council’s response
Paul Lindsay, a former Elk Grove planning commissioner, supported the allegations against Ly.
“We’ve heard accounts from prominent citizens in our community, and even if you discount the account of Ms. Vue, as one caller suggested, we still have accounts from Ms. Nancy Chaires Espinoza, Ms. Bobbie Singh-Allen and Dr. (Jacqueline) Cheung,” he said.
“These have been separate, extensive, detailed, credible accounts of individuals who have been harassed by Mr. Ly or his associates. In this day and age, such accusations must not and should not be taken lightly or dismissed out of hand.”
Lindsay urged the council to order a formal censure of Ly and “the actions of his associates.”
Council Member Stephanie Nguyen responded to Lindsey’s comments regarding a need for taking actions in the matter of these allegations.
Nguyen requested that the mayor write a letter of apology to Singh-Allen, Espinoza, Vue and Cheung, and take classes pertaining to harassment and bullying, and organize public meetings to educate the community about the Hmong clan system.
Vice Mayor Steve Detrick condemned the mayor for “his behavior.”
“I know that you had the police chief talk earlier if there was anything found that was against the law,” he said. “Well, these issues may not be against the law, but this type of behavior is not to be excused. I would support the recommendation to at least bring this (matter) back to the next council meeting for the idea of you being censured.”
Council Member Darren Suen also mentioned his desire to consider some action in this matter.
“I don’t know whether it’s censure or perhaps it’s the path that Council Member Nguyen outlined, but something appropriate that I think that would give the people that have come forward some acknowledgement of their suffering and what they’ve gone through,” he said.
Council Member Pat Hume also supported the future discussion.
“I don’t know whether censure is the right course of action, putting a request out to the grand jury for an investigation,” he said. “Stephanie mentioned what amounts to essentially a performance improvement plan.
“So, I think it’s an unfortunate distraction from all the larger issues that are going on, but I do think it’s a conversation that we do need to have.”
Accusers respond to mayor and his supporters
Singh-Allen responded to the comments made at the July 22 Elk Grove City Council meeting. She called into the meeting during its public comment period.
Singh-Allen referred to a series of callers’ support of Ly and discrediting of Vue at the meeting as occurring in an “orchestrated manner.”
“Can we just recognize that all of these comments, they’re orchestrated and they’re done in the same manner?” she asked. “You have the same talking points. Let’s just attack a private citizen (Vue) and discredit her.
“I’m sad that this is happening in my city. I couldn’t sit in silence anymore and I feel like I sat in silence far too long when it comes to the actions of Mr. Ly.”
In an interview with the Citizen on July 24, Vue responded to the claim made by her brother, Thay, that she stabbed him during an argument in 2010. He did not file charges against her after that incident.
“I did it in self-defense,” she said. “He choked me against the refrigerator and I had no way to protect myself, so I stuck out my arm to reach for whatever I could to protect myself. And unfortunately, it was the knife that was near him. The fact that he said I got arrested, it really didn’t trigger me, because I know the truth. There’s proof that I was never arrested.”
Regarding another incident, in which her brother alleged that she assaulted his then-girlfriend, Vue claimed that she was defending herself from her.
Vue told the Citizen that her brother is presenting a false narrative that he is a victim.
“The fact that Thay would twist the narrative to make it seem like he’s the victim is very disturbing, but it’s also part of the same mentality that Steve Ly has, is that you have toxic Hmong men who are abusive and disrespect women, and they don’t see any wrong and they don’t take accountability for their actions.
“Thay and Steve are the same. Thay (was) more physical. I’m not sure about Steve, but Steve has definitely used his power and his words to abuse women. The fact that they found so much solidarity to gang up on me, to discredit me says a lot.”
Vue praised the other women who went public with their allegations against the mayor.
“I’m so thankful for all of the courageous women who came out with similar stories, because even the fact if they were successful in discrediting me, there were so many other stories out there.”
Cheung on July 24 spoke to the Citizen about the result of the police report that she had filed regarding her alleged harassment.
“I have respect for the Elk Grove Police Department,” she said. “I filed the report in the interest of having a record. Although they said they found no evidence of criminal activity, to me that means they just didn’t find anything. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t harassed, threatened, intimidated or bullied.”
Cheung expressed appreciation to the four Elk Grove council members who plan to evaluate what action they might take against the mayor.
“I am very grateful to (them) for doing the right thing and for moving for the censure of Steve Ly and even a possible grand jury investigation and possibly other remedies to be placed on the agenda for the next (council) meeting,” she said.