Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this
By Mike Allen
April 22, 2021 (Santee) -- Spurred by negative press resulting from two ugly incidents involving racist maskers inside local grocery stores and later, violent clashes at demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the city of Santee set out to deal with its image as a less than welcoming place for minorities.

Soon after those incidents that drew widespread scorn last year, the City Council approved resolutions denouncing racism, hate speech, and set a course of publicly examining how it  treats minority people, and what it could do to improve matters.
That difficult exercise continued this week when the Council reviewed a plan developed by the city’s Community Oriented Policing Committee or COMPOC, and some of the early steps the city has taken to address intolerance and increase diversity.
As soon as the planned presentation ended, the Council and Mayor John Minto were hit with criticism for their support of Defend East County (DEC), a vigilante group that was allegedly involved in some of the violence during protests held in the city in June.
Photo, right: Screenshot of brawl caught on video by ECM reporter Henri Migala at a June 2020 racial justice in Santee, where white men, some shouting racial slurs, instigated fist fights and hurled rocks at protesters. 
Photo, left:  Photo by ECM reporter Rebecca Jefferis-Williamson of a young Black Lives Matter protester with nose bloodied from a punch by a white assailant during the same event.
“Defend East County has caused terror in our community and made us a target for future protests,” said Kaya Hunter, who said she is a 20-year resident of Santee. Hunter claimed that Minto and the Sheriff’s Department allowed DEC to violate the curfew and that Minto and other councilmembers still belong to the group that continues to foster hate.
Minto denied ever being a member of the DEC, and said that neither he nor the Sheriff’s Department ever gave permission to the group to ignore the curfew. He also denied handing out flyers on behalf of DEC in front of the Target in the Town Center during the disturbances that occurred on several nights at the confluence of Cuyamaca Street and Mission Gorge Road.
Minto said he went to DEC’s Facebook page where the false statements were made to correct them, but could only do so by joining the group. He said once he got on the page he made it clear he didn’t give permission to violate the curfew. He said he then exited the page, and has never participated in any DEC activities.
At an April 14 meeting that was also broadcast virtually, District 4 Councilman Dustin Trotter denied he is a DEC leader, but acknowledged he is a member “just like 18,000 residents in East County.” In October, Facebook removed DEC from its social media site after reports that some of its members were threatening minority people in Santee.
Minto, a former San Diego police detective, said he’s talked with Justin Haskins, the reputed founder of the group, and made it clear to him that certain behaviors and violence aren’t tolerated in Santee. “If I condoned any of this I would not have started a program to look into these allegations so we could move forward as a community,” he said.
Santee’s official effort to improve things was made clear  at the outset of its presentation with its mission statement:  “Our city recognizes its past and is ready to move forward with an authentic effort to heal and a commitment to do better.”
Photo, right: Shopper wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood inside a Santee Vons in May 2020 went viral on social media, sparking outage.  Days later, two shoppers at a Santee Food for Less showed up wearing  masks with Nazi swastikas.
Founded in 1980, Santee is probably the least diverse city in the county pertaining to minority population. A Housing Element report the city will soon send up to Sacramento shows the white population as of 2018 at 69 percent, down from 74 percent in 2010. That compares to El Cajon, with a white population of 57 percent and La Mesa at 55 percent in the latest official count.
The Santee housing report shows Hispanics make up 18 percent, Asians 5.2 percent, and Blacks 1.9 percent.   
As part of the city’s roadmap to diversity, equity, and Inclusion, COMPOC requested a review of Santee’s operations as well as that of its contracted police force, the County Sheriff’s Department.
Among the cited achievements by Santee were targeted advertising about the city’s commitment to diversity through banners, new recruitment videos and a diversity training program for both management and staff. The city also reviewed the language used in various city materials and made some changes.
A presentation by the Sheriff’s Department emphasized the agency’s commitment to treating all residents with respect, hiring minority residents, and being more transparent in its procedures and interactions.
City Manager Marlene Best said the city has spent some $25,000 implementing the diversity program so far and intends to ask the Council for at least that same sum, and possibly more, to continue its efforts in the next fiscal year.
Several councilmembers said the city should do more to feature and publicize the contributions of minority people  living in the region and make greater efforts in terms of welcoming them during public events such as the Summer Concert series. Councilman Ronn Hall suggested holding a series of lunches in which residents could learn more about residents who come from different cultures.
Just how the program will be implemented publicly is unclear, and still evolving, but councilmembers all supported its mission and goals.
Yet, several speakers said the city should have done a much better job promoting the April 19 special Council meeting. Councilwoman Laura Koval and a member of COMPOC even said they were barely aware the meeting was taking place.
Councilman Rob McNelis said once the city gets its own television station up and running, it should go a long way toward getting information out to citizens more effectively.
The April 19 meeting was viewed by 53 people, according to City Clerk Annette Ortiz.
Best said earlier this month that the television station might be making its first broadcast at the City Council’s April 28 meeting. The channel would broadcast on Cox Cable 24 and AT&T Channel 99.


Mike Allen writes about government agencies and other topics for East County Magazine, mainly covering the Santee City Council. Among the newspapers he’s written for are the San Diego Business Journal, San Diego Daily Transcript, the Vista Press, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has won numerous journalism awards including a fellowship to the Stonier School of Banking by the American Bankers Association while employed as a financial reporter. He is a graduate of Fordham University in Bronx, N.Y. where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications. He now lives in Santee.


East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at



Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


Comedy Central

SanteeCitizen suggesting forum members get educated is the best thing I've seen all week, you can't make this stuff up! Thanks for the laugh! ☉ ‿ ⚆

Flunky journalism.

The tiny East County Magazine is hardly the publication one thinks of when thinking of any manner of journalistic standard. With a low budget, it is probably hard to hire writers with high skills or willing to do the hard work to report facts instead of blabbing about their opinion and calling it a news story. Therefore it is all the more important for the individual members of our community to speak up and call out lazy reporting and critical race theory bias. Such is the case on this hit piece on our beloved City of Santee. A city that has, in fact, made a proactive effort to welcome everyone to our city. First, the writer makes a sophomoric statement that Santee is “probably” the least diverse city in the county. Who reports like that? Probably? Probably not. A 30 second fact check finds dozens of cities and neighborhoods within the county similar in racial makeups or less minorities. Do your research before keyboarding such race bigotry. Next, the notion of race “equity” assumes a neo-Marxist, insidious ideal of of equality of outcome rather than the more egalitarian equality of opportunity. Such political ideologies have no place in unbiased reporting. Nowhere did the article provide actual facts to support their assertion that an entire city is racist. Like a school yard bully the article perpetuates name calling simply because San rhymes with Clan. The article naively states Santee was “founded” in 1980. Santee was actually founded by Jeanie Cowles who in 1891 changed the community name from Cowleston to Santee. 89 years later, the residents of Santee voted for incorporation. If your going to call your publication “East County”, take the time to contact the Santee Historical Society to get your facts straight. The article attempts to gaslight city officials for merely following a Facebook page like tens of thousands of others concerned about protecting the city from the rioting that burned down La Mesa. The article complete fails to mention this seminal fact as the foundation of the group. The article speculates Facebook took down the page purely for racist violations without citing facts or sources. According to Facebook, that information is not made public, therefore the writer is only guessing. The writer lists anecdotal references to a couple who wore swastika masks in protest of the lockdowns as proof of racism. Missing from the article was the Sheriff’s Department spokesperson’s quote: “Santee is a city of families and the community is rightfully disgusted at this couple's despicable behavior.“ Also missing was the Santee Mayor, John Minto’s quote: “Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance. Santee, its leaders, and I will not tolerate such behavior. Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual's actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city,“ To include such quotes or additional facts, would tend to provide the reader all available information, rather than a one-sided opinion piece bastardized by critical race theory.

Your rant is off base.

Mike stands by his story, except for the typo that we corrected. 

Here is Mike's response;

" Except for making a typo on Dustin’s first name, I stand by everything in my story. There is no bias, agenda, or seeking to attack the city of Santee.  This story gives an accurate view of how the city is fairly dealing with its past and its current image. And to use the phrase, “Say His Name!”, referencing the unwarranted killings of black people by police officers, to a typo....just a bit much."

Below are my comments:

The DEC has long used its Facebook page members when claiming how many members it has, and to my knowledge there's no other way of assesssing their membership -- they don't have dues, or other membership requirements. 

Our article made no assertion that the city itself is racist, but instead quoted community members who are concerned about a history of racism in the community, some of which has been well documented and indisputable such as people wearing KKK or Swastika masks into stores recently, as well as people standing with the DEC at counter-protests shouting racial slurs caught on video, as well as violence that has occurred frequently against minority protesters when the DEC convened its counter-protests, rallies, or whatever term you wish to use for their gatherings.

In many past articles we have referenced the roots of DEC, which formed after the La Mesa riot. Many who joined were no doubt well intentioned in wanting to protect Santee merchants against potential looting. If that was all that happened, there wouldn't be the level of criticism from people of color. But when the group allowed racist posts and posts suggesting violence on their page, and when violence actually occurrred repeatedly by people, some wearing white supremacy symbols or shouting racial slots, adn the DEC did not act swiftly to denounce such actions and ban those individuals, it developed a reputation as a vigilante group that behaved as though law and order only applied to black people or those protesting for racial justice.

I never heard any DEC leaders denounce the death of George Floyd or show any empathy for the cause of racial justice, nor acknowledge that most protesters calling for racial justice are not rioters  It is unfortunately that the rioters who damaged and burned businesses in La Mesa tarnished the racial justice movement.  One can support racial justice and also denounce rioting, and one can support people standing guard to prevent looting while also denouncing "defenders" who stoop to violence and racist name calling.

It is good that the city is trying to take action to address the racist reputation in Santee, which can't be good for attracting residents or businesses there, and if the councilmembers are sincere then hopefully over time their actions will overcome the understandable skepticism of some community members.

As for the Santee history lesson, the city's own website states that it only incorporated as a city in 1980, though like all local cities, it had pioneering residents there before it took on its current name or became a city. Mike's story clearly referred to it as a "city" when discussing when it was founded, so his statement is accurate.



Why make another attack on the great folks in Santee?

East County Magazine hypocrisies and inaccuracies knows no bounds. Together with ECM writer Mike Allen, they expand on a history of ECM misinforming the public about topics they clearly have a bias toward. Rather than acknowledge the growth that the City of Santee has worked on since the demonstrations of last summer, ECM finds it necessary to attack the City's efforts and continue her attacks on the entire population of Santee. ECM cannot even be bothered to fact check enough to report names correctly, accurately state quotes, nor present the facts of the past summer. I’ll make it simpler for you; Dustin Trotter, not JUSTIN. It was VERY apparent that you intended to misquote Council Member DUSTIN Trotter. His direct quote was that he had joined as a member of the DEC “FACEBOOK PAGE”, just like 18,000 others. Why leave out the Facebook reference, unless it’s your continuing attack on Santee? Please contact the business owners in Santee, or even in La Mesa, and ask them if they were boarding up their businesses last summer for fear that DEC was going to damage their storefront. I wish ECM would take the final mission statement from the City presentation and make it her own. Miriam, are you prepared to operate under the mission statement of: “East County Magazine recognizes its past and is ready to move forward with an authentic effort to heal and a commitment to do better.” Miriam, please hold yourself and your magazine accountable for recording and reporting truth. Please stop the unwarranted attacks on the great citizens of Santee. Miriam, do you know who else was a member of DEC? None other than Democrat hopeful Stephen Houlahan. How about you also write about that?

santee has a lot to learn

outside of santee people still refer to it as klantee. just search klantee it makes me sick!