Former policeman Larry Wallace hitched his wagon to a politician on the fast track when he went to work for Kamala Harris.
She was San Francisco’s district attorney at the time, and he was her personal driver. But she was clearly destined for bigger things and when Harris became California’s attorney general, she appointed Wallace to a top Justice Department position, director of the Division of Law Enforcement.
Wallace not only managed the state’s corps of criminal investigators, but also Harris’ personal security team and often was at her side during public appearances.
Harris’ political career continued on an upward trajectory. Two years ago, she easily captured a U.S. Senate seat and Wallace once again followed her, becoming one of her senior advisors and obviously helping prepare her for a potential presidential bid in 2020.
The ex-cop’s political career ended abruptly last week when he resigned after the Sacramento Bee asked Harris’ office about a $400,000 payment – of taxpayers’ funds – to a woman who had accused Wallace of harassment during his time in the attorney general’s office.
Danielle Hartley, who had been Wallace’s executive assistant, filed a lawsuit on Dec. 30, 2016, while Harris was in her final days as attorney general, alleging that she had been subjected to demeaning behavior by her boss.
Among other things, the “gender harassment” suit accused him of compelling her to crawl under his desk daily to change his printer’s paper or ink, and refusing to move the printer to a more convenient and dignified location.
“Wallace frequently asked Hartley to put paper in the printer while he was sitting at his desk or in front of other male executives from the division, according to the lawsuit,” the Bee reported.
After she complained, the suit alleges Wallace also took away Hartley’s “meaningful tasks” and forced her to run personal errands for himself and his family, including washing his car. Later, after making a formal complaint, she experienced retaliation, the suit continued.
A few months after Hartley’s suit was filed, Harris’ successor as attorney general, Xavier Becerra, settled it with a $400,000 payment that included a prohibition against her disclosing her allegations, talking to the media or ever applying for another job at the state Justice Department.
When the Bee asked Harris’ office about the suit and the settlement, Wallace immediately resigned and spokeswoman Lily Adams said Harris was unaware of either. Later, Harris told the Bee that “I’m frustrated that I wasn’t briefed,” adding, “There’s no question I should have been informed of this.”
It seems incredible that Harris would have been kept in the dark about an harassment allegation against one of her closest aides, and the secret payoff that made it go away.
That’s especially true since Harris has made sexual harassment a touchstone in preparing for a presidential run, pounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing about allegations that as a high school student he had assaulted one of his classmates.
There are two possibilities arising from the Bee’s intrepid reportage.
One is that Harris knew about Hartley’s allegations and hoped that the payoff and its nondisclosure requirement would bury the issue.
The second is that she wasn’t told by high Justice Department officials to shield her and preserve her deniability. That version comports with strong clues during her time as attorney general that everything was being stage-managed to enhance her political ambitions and nothing that interfered with them was to be tolerated.
Either scenario badly tarnishes her credentials for the presidency.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary