News


Public works supervisor found not guilty

Police officer painted as victim by prosecution, victimizer by defense

On Thursday, July 2, a jury returned verdicts of "not guilty" on misdemeanor counts of assault and battery against Atherton public works supervisor, Troy Henderson. Mr. Henderson, a 33-year employee of the town, was accused of lunging at and grabbing Atherton police officer Pilar Ortiz-Buckley in an incident caught on the police station's surveillance video.

In closing arguments made Wednesday, July 1, prosecutors described Ms. Ortiz-Buckley, who has since retired as an officer, as the unwitting victim of a man who engaged in habitual sexual harassment of his female coworkers.

Mr. Henderson's defense attorney had a very different take on the misdemeanor assault and battery charges against her client: Ms. Ortiz-Buckley set up Mr. Henderson with an eye towards cashing in later.

Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon, July 1, in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City. The verdict was returned around 11 a.m. the following morning.

The charges stem from a June 3, 2008, incident, when Officer Ortiz-Buckley was sitting in the police station staff room and Mr. Henderson lunged at her and grabbed her, according to Steve Wagstaffe, the chief deputy district attorney of San Mateo County.

Ms. Ortiz-Buckley was lambasted as a lying opportunist who is interested only in money by defense attorney Jaime Harley in her closing argument. Ms. Harley speculated that Ms. Ortiz-Buckley lured Mr. Henderson into the staff room with the express purpose of creating a video that she could later use in an attempt to wring money out of the town. There is no audio, so there's no telling what was being said, Ms. Harley said. "She could have been saying, 'Come here, big boy,'" Ms. Harley said.

"Everything is about money, every lie she told," Ms. Harley told the jury. "She's thinking about the big payday at the end."

Ms. Ortiz-Buckley was aware that a new video surveillance system had been installed in the police station and deliberately positioned herself so that the interaction of Mr. Henderson could be recorded, Ms. Harley alleged. Because Mr. Henderson had previous complaints about sexual harassment made against him, she knew that he would be a vulnerable target, Ms. Harley said.

Mr. Henderson, 58, is old, in ill-health and confused by the strange incident, Ms. Harley said.

"I hope you gave your eyes a good rub, because you just had sand thrown in them," said San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Sharron Lee. "This defense is trying to re-victimize this victim at every opportunity.

Ms. Lee said Mr. Henderson lied repeatedly on the witness stand, and stared intently at his attorney as he tried to come up with the right responses when he was being cross-examined. She questioned how Ms. Ortiz-Buckley could have possibly manipulated Mr. Henderson as the defense alleged.

"Where are the puppet strings that made him lunge into her and grab her?" Ms. Lee asked the jury rhetorically.

"To say she's doing this as a diabolical plan to get big money? That is absurd," she said.

Ms. Lee also brought up the 16 sexual-harassment complaints filed against Mr. Henderson by Atherton town staff members.

Atherton Sgt. Kristin Nichols and former town employee Lois English testified June 30 to numerous incidents of sexual harassment by Mr. Henderson.

Ms. English said she filed numerous complaints about the almost daily pattern of sexual comments from Mr. Henderson during the 16 years she worked for the town. "His demeanor suggested he meant it (the comments) as sexual," she testified Tuesday. "He would stick out his tongue and flick it in a sexual way."

She said Mr. Henderson once put his hands down her shirt, into the top of her bra. The behavior only stopped after she cut him off and refused to talk to him, she said.

Sgt. Nichols testified she was standing in front of the police station in 2002 when Mr. Henderson pulled up. "He said he wanted to shake me up and show me how to feel good. He told me he'd be keeping his eye on me," Sgt. Nichols testified Tuesday. She filed a formal complaint about the incident.

Now-retired officer Ortiz-Buckley testified Monday that she "was standing up to a bully" when she shoved Mr. Henderson away during the incident.

She said she had always ignored sexual comments Mr. Henderson directed at her because she considered him a friend, but on that day, his demeanor and posture were different. She said she was shocked by the incident, and that Mr. Henderson threatened her after she warned him not to take her on.

Mr. Henderson testified on Tuesday that he didn't even remember the incident until he was later questioned about it and shown the surveillance camera footage. He never touched her and only stepped close to her, not because he was threatening her but because her voice had dropped and he couldn't hear her, he said.

Mr. Henderson testified that he never made any sexual comments toward Ms. Ortiz-Buckley, and wasn't seeking a relationship with her. "That's disrespectful to say to anyone," he said. He said he might talk about sex with his male co-workers but not the female ones. "I would never do anything to hurt Ms. Ortiz or disrespect her," he testified.

Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's ex-husband John Buckley was called to the stand as a character witness. He said Ms. Ortiz-Buckley had lied on many occasions, and he claimed that she frequently worked her side job of conducting background checks while on-duty as a police officer. He conceded that the divorce was not amicable and that there had been a custody dispute over their young son.

His testimony was countered by former Atherton police chief Bob Brennan, who was asked his opinion of Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's honesty. "I have the opinion that she is an honest and truthful person," he testified. Sgt. Nichols also testified to Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's honesty.

Mr. Henderson and the town of Atherton are named in a civil lawsuit Officer Ortiz-Buckley filed, alleging ongoing sexual harassment by Mr. Henderson. In her April 22 complaint, Officer Ortiz-Buckley said that once she reported the incident, she faced retaliation and disability discrimination related to the injury she suffered in the incident.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 1, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Whenever an employee alleges sexual harassment by another employee, their employer (the town of Atherton in this case) is obligated to thoroughly investigate the claim. If two separate employees make credible allegations against an employee and that employee is allowed to remain in his job and to continue the alleged harassment, the employer (the town of Atherton) is going to lose the lawsuit that those two employees should bring against the town. If Ms. Ortiz-Buckley actually faced retaliation and disability discrimination after she reported the incident and that can be "proven", the town of Atherton will be the big loser in the civil lawsuit and the HR director for the town should be fired for allowing the sexual harassment to continue.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 1, 2009 at 2:02 pm

It would appear based on the reported testimony that Mr. Henderson has demonstrated a pattern of deeply offensive and strictly prohibited behavior, and that the City of Atherton completely failed in their duty to detect and eliminate his behavior. How this situation could have continued for more than a decade is troubling. At MY work, the issue of sexual harassment is a Big Deal and has been that way for a very long time. Everyone knows it is wrong, to report it immediately, and that the consequences range from severe to career-ending. The article above does not describe the defendants' defense. I would be interested in hearing what was done by the city to investigate and address the behavior.


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Posted by Rickie
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:47 pm

So---how much longer till we hear Lois is sueing for reinstatement???? That was afterall the whole point of all this side show with Troy--and I bet she's had a lot of help with strategy from the people who miss her most--police with real estate lisc and of course developers with abatement issues.


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Posted by Diana
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Mr. Henderson clearly has exhibited a pattern of sexual harrassment and arrogance. Why wasn't anything done about it before if Ms English has made "numerous complaints"? The topic of Sexual Harrassment has been hot for decades. Ms Buckley is right to make a stink about this latest episode but she is also clearly taking advantage of an opportunity to enrich herself by claiming "disability" and by additionally naming the City of Atherton as a defendant. Her case would be much more believable if she concentrated on taking out the guy who causes the trouble and not reach for so much extra benefit for herself.


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Posted by Deep thinking
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Can the following two sets of facts be simultaneously true?

1. Mr. Henderson has made sexually inappropriate comments to several female co-workers over the years and Atherton failed to take appropriate corrective action.

2. Ms. Ortiz-Buckley is trying to use this as an excuse to garner a disability pension she is not otherwise entitled to.

In other words, is the compensation Ms. Ortiz-Buckley is due for being spoken to in an inappropriate way by Mr. Henderson a disability pension? Why didn't she report his behavior before the incident in the break room with the camera?


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Posted by Deep thinking
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

(sorry, this part got cut off).

...and, following through with both of these points, does Mr. Henderson's off-color comments make him guilty of a crime in this current criminal prosecution? I think of course not. Making inappropriate comments is not criminal. It may be grounds for disciplinary action, and even losing one's job. But, this is still America and it's not a crime to ask a woman to have sex with you as long as it's just verbal. Does the tape really show physical battery?

I think here's what King Solomon would do: (1) terminate Mr. Henderson's employment with the Town of Atherton. Let him keep his pension. (2) dismiss the criminal charges against Mr. Henderson. (3) make Atherton apologize for his conduct to the various women involved. (4) make Atherton managers undergo training in sexual harassment issues. (5) inform Ms. Oritz-Buckley she is not getting a disability pension.


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Posted by amused
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm

TSK TSK TSK...shame on the powers that be that allowed any of this happen. Just another embarassment for the town that has so much experience with embarrassing law suits!


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Posted by Know The Facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm

It is sad that people jump to conclusions without facts and re-victimize a person who has served the community for so long. Ms. Ortiz-Buckley was injured on the job long before this alleged harassment. She has worked hard to rehabilitate and wanted nothing more than to be reinstated to work. Her physical disability is well documented and her disability claim completely deserved. However, it has nothing to do with the case at hand.

It is equally sad when people choose to invoke the wisdom of Solomon before finding the facts upon which they would base their pronouncement of "wisdom". The fact is that these two items are separate parts of one story, yet they are not dependent upon each other nor is one part "trying to use this as an excuse to garner a disability pension she is not otherwise entitled to" (sic).

An employer is liable if they knew that a person had previously broken the laws concerning sexual harassment and allowed said employee to remain on staff. Time will tell if that was the case, but it has nothing to do with a disability claim, nor does it have anything to do with this particular criminal case. How does a city learn to enforce their own rules and be honest with employees and tax payers, unless the indiscretions of the town are brought to light and there are consequences for the actions of the town?

Similarly, it is unfair to judge Mr. Henderson prior to the decision of the court. One would be equally inaccurate to make sweeping statements about his behavior, particularly without the judgement of the court. It is hard to stand in the shoes of all parties, but until there is a judgement it is something we in America hold as a right of all people (innocent until proven guilty).

Victims, whistle blowers and defendants have one thing in common - they are often victimized by those who do not have the facts. Why not wait for the decision of the court and trust the judicial system that has served this country for so long?


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Posted by astonished
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

I say bring back Jim Robinson. This kind of stuff did not appear to happen on his watch.




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Posted by Wow
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 2, 2009 at 9:54 am

16 prior incident??? One against a police sergeant??? And this guy still had a job??? And his lawyer has the audacity to call the cop a liar and out for money??? I would be too if the city didn't do anything about the first 15 complaints about him, including another police employee. Where are this guys' bosses, and how has this been allowed to go on for so long. I hope this Ortiz does get a big paycheck after this. I need a shower after just reading this. Ugh.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by disgusted
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 2, 2009 at 10:24 am

Excuse me, Astonished, but I think you need to put on your thinking cap. How long has this harassment problem been going on? Over how many years were complaints made to town management? And when was Jim Robinson's tenure?

This problem has apparently been going on for so many years it probably involves not only the current town manager and Robinson, but one or two managers even before those guys. Last question: What on earth is WRONG with this town?


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Posted by not amused
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Disgusted doesn\'t get it. The real criminals in the Town of Atherton wear a blue uniform adorned with a badge, carry a pistol and drive a black and white sedan.

During the trial, Buckley was accused of working on outside employment using Town time an property. This complaint sounds quite similar to that made against the former finance director.

It will be interesting to see whether Wagstaffe and Grosshauser spend nine months investigating this complaint.

Chances are that Wagstaffe, who wants to replace Fox will dare not cross the thin blue line.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oh MY
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 2, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Well Well Well...looks like the town skated once again! The Town officials must be taking a collective sigh of relief...she lost this trial which will negate her attempt at a civil settlement. What a joke! They have not one but two cops accused of stealing...now this. I don't think Henderson was an angel...but if the town is so stupid to allow this to go on with all these complaints...well...they get what they deserve. Bad employees. Bad administrators. There needs to be a complete re-think about whether or not it is even worth having that little tiny do nothing police department in the first place.


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Posted by Deep thinking
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Oh MY, I think it's quite the opposite. Had Mr. Henderson been convicted, I believe Atherton's strategy would have been to fire him, explaining that they followed the "American way" by letting him be presumed innocent until being proven guilty, but once he was, they took decisive action.

Now, they won't be able to fire him. Ms. Ortiz-Buckley will continue with her civil suit under the theory that the civil standard of proof (preponderance of the evidence) is much less than the criminal standard (beyond a reasonable doubt).

I think this makes things more complicated for Atherton, not less.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 2, 2009 at 6:03 pm

whats interesting to me is that the jury did not beleive the testimony of several Atherton police officers or the chief---now there something for everyone in the DA's office to ponder


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Posted by Because
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 3, 2009 at 1:08 am

Ed, the testimony of the other Atherton police officers was irrelevant. Henderson wasn't on trial for sexual harassment, which is not a crime as Deep thinker pointed out. He was on trial for assault and battery. I also can't quite get how suggesting to Kristine Nichols that he wanted to get it on with her implied he assaulted Pilar Ortiz-Buckley. I don't think the judge should have even let it in, and the fact that he was exonerated even with that stuff being brought in makes it quite a decisive victory.

But your point about the credibility of the Atherton police is well-taken. What, with the various lawsuits, criminal proceedings against Steve Cader and Clark Yee and all, perhaps they've taken a bit of a credibility hit.


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Posted by astonished
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 3, 2009 at 10:18 am

A bit of a credibility hit? Please, that department has ZERO credibility! From the top down to the lowest level person. They should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. Get rid of them all together. The town is provided fire and medical services from the City of Menlo Park...it is time to do the same with the worthless, dishonest, unethical tiny police force.


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Posted by juror 13
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2009 at 12:22 pm

[Post removed due to personal attacks]


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Posted by jack friday
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 3, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Wagstaffe continues to Henderson after a verdict has been delivered.

Wagestaffe is expeceted to run for DA

Quite possibly Wagstaffe seeks to divert attention from the fact that public resources should never have been wasted on taking this matter to trial.

The voters will ultimately decide I suppose.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I actually feel a little bad for Steve--he's a really busy guy and he has to depend on his "investigaters" to do his leg work--I think it likely that he is just beginning to figure out that he has allowed himself to be manipulated --that the thin blue line has become an extreemly grey area. It would seem natural enough for him to believe Chief Brennen (a freiend of his)--and for Brennen inturn to have relied on Nielson--lets see how the chain of command links all of this up after gravity set in. I actually wish the DA luck in figuring this out as soon as posible--anything that reflected badly on him would only leave the rest of us still stuck with the source of many misrepresentations still in place.


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Posted by Explanation
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 3, 2009 at 11:18 pm

The district attorney prosecuted former Atherton police chief Steve Cader about ten years ago, and was informed in no uncertain terms by the police chiefs in San Mateo County that if he did anything even remotely like that again, they would throw their support behind other candidates. Let's take a few seconds to review the criminal justice system activities of Atherton's finest in this time frame:

1. Prosecution and resignation of Chief Steve Cader for voter fraud (2000)
2. Ofc. Richard Ponce's firing for accessing the CLETS database to look up information about a man his girlfriend may have been seeing. (Considered one of the ten worst cases of police database abuse of all time - look it up on the internet) (1999)
3. Ofc. Clark Yee's criminal prosecution for stealing a resident's golf clubs. (2008)
4. Dispatcher Anita Blick being criminally prosecuted and convicted for worker's comp. fraud. (2005)
5. The current Pilar Ortiz fiasco over Troy Henderson and a disability pension. (2008/9)

This is all in the last ten years. This amounts to a MAJOR fiasco every other year, and DOESN'T COUNT the lawsuits generated by the actions of these police officers (and there have been many), just the escapades of the officers themselves.

This is a department that has about a dozen officers is it. The Almanac should really look into what's wrong with this picture.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 4, 2009 at 12:10 am

Is there some way to set the DA free from feeling pressured by the cops?? Does he need our help??? I hadn't even considered that he was being held hostage as an explaination for how long it was taking him to figure this all out--I thought it was just missplaced loyalty--but I spose its manipulation either way. I"m not smart enough to be afraid of them if you have any ideas on how we could help .


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 4, 2009 at 9:32 am

Dear Anna

I am glad you asked.

The former Finance Director alerted me to instances of apparent fraud in the Police Department.

The former Finance Director has advised me that he went to the DA with his complaint and that he provided the DA with documentation to support his claim.

This took quite a bit of courage on his part in light of the fact that he himself was subject to a nine-month criminal investigation.

The DA has yet to act on the former Finance Director\'s complaint. If you and others were to contact the DA directly and urge him to investigate this matter I do believe it would be especially valuable.

After all when it comes to counting votes, Wagstaffe should know that we civilians outnumber the cops by a wide margin.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2009 at 12:12 pm

"This took quite a bit of courage on his part in light of the fact that he himself was subject to a nine-month criminal investigation."

This nine month criminal investigation was a bad joke. It is an excellent example of our District Attorney abusing his authority. He James P. Fox opened and continued to keep open the investigation to put personal pressure Mr. John Johns. They knew from the start there was no criminal acts.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm

So do you think Fox allowed this Johns thing to happen as a way to coverup for with freinds with abatement problems that turned up in the audit??or just on bad advice from Brennen cuz Allen insisted??


 +   Like this comment
Posted by songwriter
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm

[Posts removed; excessive posts by same person using different names]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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