Temecula Mayor James “Stew” Stewart resigned Thursday night over an email to a constituent stating “I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer” — a statement he earlier said resulted from a typo made while using speech-to-text software.
According a post on Stewart’s Facebook page and a news release sent out by the city of Temecula, Stewart will step down both as mayor and from his city council seat effective immediately.
After facing both backlash and support online throughout Thursday, and facing promises from some to speak at the upcoming city council meeting on June 9 to call for his resignation, Stewart shared the following statement on his Facebook page around 9 p.m. Thursday:
“City of Temecula, I hear you, I agree with you, and I am deeply sorry.
“I owe everyone an apology including our citizens of all backgrounds and ethnicities, City staff, and my respected colleagues on the City Council. You have every right to be offended. My typos and off-the-cuff response to an email on a serious topic added pain at a time where our community, and our country, is suffering. I may not be the best writer and I sometimes misspeak, but I am not racist. I regret this mistake and I own it, entirely. I am truly sorry.
“I understand that even my sincerest apologies cannot remedy this situation. Because actions speak louder than words, I will step down as your Mayor an City Council Member, effective immediately. It has been a true honor to serve this great City and its citizens. My love for Temecula and its residents is beyond expression.”
The post on Stewart’s Facebook page continued with a statement from Mayor Pro Tem Maryann Edwards:
“Stew is a hard-working and honest man, and the City accepts his resignation. Temecula is poised to close this chapter, and continue our long-term commitment to preventing injustice in any form. On this day of Mr. George Floyd’s memorial service, and on behalf of my council colleagues, the City of Temecula offers our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his family.”
As mayor pro tem, Edwards will take over the duties of mayor, which are mainly ceremonial, in place of Stewart.
The email that led to Stewart’s decision to step down both as mayor and from his city council seat was sent late Tuesday night.
In part, Stewart writes in the email: “And I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer.” That part quickly drew backlash when images of the email were shared on social media; Stewart, apparently in reaction, shared his own screenshot of the email, saying: “So you are all going to hear about this.”
Stewart said the email was sent in response to “a person concerned about our police officers and their sensitivity training,” Stewart said.
Stewart said that word “good” in that email was transcribed in error — he said he was dictating the email, and while stating he believed there had been no police shootings of people of color locally he did not notice his words had not been accurately recorded. Stewart said in his Facebook post that he is “well known” for having dyslexia, and frequently utilizes voice text.
“Unfortunately I did not take the time to proofread what was recorded,” Stewart said in his Facebook post. “I absolutely did not say that. What I said is and I don’t believe there has ever been a person of color murdered by police, on context to Temecula or Riverside county. I absolutely did not say ‘good’ I have no idea how that popped up. Please forgive me for this egregious error. As you can see by the second half of the statement racism is not tolerated at any level in the city or the county.”
Some Facebook commenters defended Stewart, with some saying the email was “definitely an error” or that “humans make mistakes.”
Many others were less forgiving.
“Why are you using voice-to-talk commands for a conversation of this magnitude?” one asked.
Another called the email “abhorrent.”
A few of the commenters pointed out that the view Stewart said he had intended to assert, that no people of color had been killed by police in the Temecula area, was untrue.
One user called attention to the story of Matthew Tucker, an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies at his family’s home in Temecula. According to media reports at the time, Tucker was “emotionally distraught over a failed romantic relationship,” and had called 911 while contemplating suicide.
A Twitter account sharing information on protests for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement at the Temecula Duck Pond called on residents to “tell this failure in leadership to resign.” The same account also urged followers to send statements to the Temecula City Clerk to be read at the next city council meeting — which has so far been the city of Temecula’s solution to allowing public speakers while observing social distancing restrictions that have temporarily forced council meetings to take place remotely.
Some of the Facebook commenters also drew attention to the portion toward the end of the email that reads “I have several good friends who are African-Americans, and they love living here because how safe it is for them and their families.”
Reached by phone early Thursday afternoon — prior to his resignation — Stewart said that portion of his email was being misinterpreted.
“They’re touting that as how (I was saying) I was non racial, that’s not it at all,” Stewart said. “I do have African-American friends who I have talked to, and they’re comfortable in and feel safe living in Temecula.”
He also called the situation “sad,” and said the person whose email he was responding to “literally did it to bait me and set me up.”
“It’s really sad that somebody who has no history of racism can be labelled a racist with one misquote,” Stewart said. “So that’s really kind of my whole thing. Everybody’s labelled me as a racist, when I have no history of this.”
Stewart was elected in 2016 to a four-year term, and was up for re-election this November.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.
9:20 p.m. Thursday: This story was substantially updated to indicate Stewart has resigned both as Temecula mayor and as a city council member.
10:15 p.m. Thursday: This story was updated with additional information on Stewart’s resignation.