A Marina del Rey yacht club’s first black commodore resigns amid complaints of racism and assault, but security camera footage muddies the water
By Joe Piasecki
The Pacific Mariners Yacht Club will be without a commodore for this weekend’s Opening Day celebrations to kick off the boating season in Marina del Rey.
Keith Mott, an LAPD sergeant who became PMYC’s first African-American commodore late last year, resigned from the club on Monday. He is accusing its governing board of tolerating a white former commodore’s use of a racial slur during a heated clubhouse confrontation on Jan. 21.
According to PMYC documents, club leadership imposed a 30-day suspension on both men involved in the argument, plus additional penalty time for the former commodore due to what he describes in an apology letter as “an utterance that was both inappropriate and offensive.”
Mott has since filed a criminal complaint with the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station, which confirmed that detectives are pursuing a battery and hate incident investigation in consultation with the hate crimes task force.
PMYC leadership declined to speak on the record for this story, but granted The Argonaut’s request to view security camera footage of the confrontation.
Mott, a vocal critic of binge drinking at PMYC, said that the other club member threw a bulky set of keys at Mott’s chest during an argument about how the club is managed. The video appears to show the former commodore facing Mott with his arm outstretched and at eye level before letting the keys drop to the floor at Mott’s feet, after which Mott bends to pick up them up. Neither man appears to lay hands on the other at any time.
But Mott stands by his recollection that the keys made contact with his body.
“Don’t look at the angle of the hand, follow the keys. They don’t drop straight down. They hit me at the lower part of the chest and then fall to my feet, and at that point I order him to leave the club,” says Mott.
About nine minutes of footage shot from multiple angles but lacking audio shows the two men entering the clubhouse, engaging in what appears to be heated dialogue before the keys drop, briefly exiting the clubhouse, re-entering the clubhouse and attracting the attention of bystanders before separating at either end of the clubhouse bar.
Several seconds later, Mott rushes toward the former commodore, jostling a female bystander as he passes, and begins to engage him verbally.
Mott says he was reacting to hearing the word “nigger.”
It is not clear whether that profanity was launched directly at Mott, as he suspects, or “born out of anger at a situation … and not directed at any individual,” as the former commodore’s letter of apology claims.
The man accused of hurling the slur at Mott did not return calls, and a witness who is also one of the club’s few African-American members declined to speak to The Argonaut.
Mott, a member of PMYC since 2012 and involved in managing the club for the past three years, argues how the word might’ve been said is less important than what it means: a contemptuous, disparaging, racist term used for centuries to reject and disenfranchise people of color.
“Nobody’s addressing the N-word,” says Mott, “By letting this go it tells everybody in the club that it’s OK to be racist, that it’s OK to use a racial slur. If that’s what Pacific Mariners stands for, I don’t need to be a part of this club.”
Speaking on background, a senior member of the club who did not witness the confrontation takes issue with Mott’s characterization of racism at PMYC, historically a “working man’s yacht club” that casts a wide net for potential members.
“The fact that we elected [Mott] commodore is the very antithesis of the idea that this club is racially biased or bears any racial animus toward anyone,” the member said.
According to a Feb. 15 letter in which members of PMYC’s governing board inform Mott of his suspension, a Feb. 5 meeting with Mott included a review of the video after which “a larger discussion ensued about disrespect, racial language, aggressiveness and intimidation surrounding [the former commodore’s] actions.”
But the letter also faults Mott for code of conduct violations “in that you admitted the use of loud foul language, the video recording demonstrated your aggressive [and] intimidating physical posturing directly toward another member and indirectly to others in the club.”
Mott takes issue with those findings and the letter’s offer to “consider this matter settled” and remain commodore by accepting the suspension — and, says Mott, continue working with the man who used the slur.
“All of a sudden, I’m the ‘angry black man.’ The old guard is protecting their guy,” says Mott. “This is why racism will never stop, because we don’t want to deal with it when it happens.”