Evidence that may be hard to refute could answer questions about whether there was misconduct by police in their response to a complaint about alleged underage drinking at a party in a Menlo Park home Nov. 25.
Personal recording devices captured the conversations of each of the six officers and one sergeant who responded to the complaint, Commander Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department told the Almanac.
When asked if any of the alleged behavior by police rang true, Cmdr. Bertini said, "not at all," adding that he was precluded from commenting on the specific allegations because it is a criminal case in progress.
The party took place in the 1200 block of Woodland Avenue at the home of Stanford University assistant professor William Burnett, who was arrested and booked into jail on 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Mr. Burnett, 54, was released the next morning. A court date is set for Jan. 3 if San Mateo County prosecutors decide to proceed to a trial.
Police also arrested Cynthia Benjamin, 48, who is married to Mr. Burnett, but then "un-arrested" her to allow her to look after the couple's teenage son and because of her medical condition, Cmdr. Bertini said. Ms. Benjamin is recovering from back surgery and was using a walker, her family said.
Police have requested prosecution of Ms. Benjamin as well, Cmdr. Bertini said.
Mr. Burnett's defense attorney, Jeffrey Hayden of Redwood City, has not yet responded to an interview request.
Overseeing the police response at the scene was Sgt. Ed Soares, Cmdr. Bertini said.
Audio recordings may be particularly relevant in this case. Allegations of misconduct, provided to the Almanac in an email from Eliza Burnett, Mr. Burnett's 21-year-old daughter, center on verbal exchanges at the party and alleged harsh and discourteous behavior by police.
Mr. Burnett later said that his daughter was not at home at the time of the incident, but he confirmed the accuracy of her statements.
Among Ms. Burnett's allegations:
■ That police handcuffed Ms. Benjamin and took her outside into the night air, allegedly after she asked police to tell her why they were arresting her husband. Ms. Burnett also alleged that police made disparaging remarks to her mother about her parenting skills.
■ That police did not tell Mr. Burnett why he was being arrested and did not read him his Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
■ That police told Ms. Burnett's younger brother, in tears after seeing the treatment of his mother, to "shut up and get back in line" with some 40 other teens queued up for police interviews.
■ That police did not inform the teens of their rights regarding police interviews.
■ That police detained a 22-year-old woman passing by the party, accused her of bringing drugs for the teens, and threatened her with arrest if she tried to leave.
■ That police did not witness underage drinking and erred in not using breathalyzer tests to prove their contention that the teens had been drinking and were inebriated.
While proof of inebriation such as through breath analysis data would seem critical to the prosecution's case, it is not, Cmdr. Bertini said. An officer's observations, photographs and interview recordings are sufficient, he said.
As for detaining a passerby, that is legal if police have a "reasonable suspicion" that criminal activity is taking place and that the person being detained is connected to that activity, Cmdr. Bertini said.
Police are not required to inform people of their Miranda rights if they are being detained as opposed to arrested. If during the course of an interview, police decide that an arrest is appropriate, at that time the Miranda warnings would be required, Cmdr. Bertini said.
The officers' audio recordings are kept for at least a year, longer if they're needed as evidence for a trial or an internal investigation, Cmdr. Bertini said. Officers download the recordings to a secure police station server, where they are stamped with ID information, including date, time and the name of the officer.
A trial could be months away. Considering the centrality of the recorded conversations as evidence, the recordings might be a target for editing or other forms of hacking. Could they be hacked?
Not very likely, said Stephen Gaskins, a sales support representative for Riverside-based Versatile Information Products, the vendor for the recorders in use by Menlo Park police.
Deletion of a word or sentence in the original recording is next to impossible because the audio files, once downloaded to the server, are encrypted more strongly than online banking records, Mr. Gaskins said in a telephone interview.
Were someone to log in, extract a copy of an original recording, edit it offline and return it to the server, a tracking system that registers all activity on the server would tell the story and would resist being covered up, Mr. Gaskins added.
"You never want to say impossible, but (hacking) is very unlikely," he said. "It's pretty locked down."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mr. Burnett had been bailed out of jail.