News - February 3, 2010

Atherton resident calls for probe of police department

• Jonathan Buckheit won a "declaration of factual innocence" after he was arrested.

by Andrea Gemmet

An Atherton resident who said he was wrongfully arrested in 2008 on domestic violence charges was exonerated Jan. 14 by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge. Now, he's publicly calling for an investigation into the Atherton Police Department's practices.

Jonathan Buckheit, who won a declaration of factual innocence from the judge, is pursuing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Atherton and two of the town's police officers, saying that his civil rights were violated by the 2008 arrest.

"I was falsely arrested in a domestic dispute in which I called 911," Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac.

No charges were brought against Mr. Buckheit in the domestic violence call that involved Mr. Buckheit and a woman, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

"It was not sufficient (evidence) to prosecute, but it was not a case where we would agree to declaration of factual innocence," Mr. Wagstaffe said.

When Mr. Buckheit sought a copy of the police report from his arrest, both the Atherton Police Department and the San Mateo County District Attorney's office refused to give it to him, he said. Then-city Attorney Marc Hynes told him he was not entitled to the police report, Mr. Buckheit said.

"I was the one who received physical injuries during the incident, so I was entitled to it," he said.

Eight months later, Mr. Buckheit said he finally got the report, but only after he filed a lawsuit to get it. He was awarded almost $8,000 in legal fees and damages in that case, he said.

"The most disturbing thing is that they were trying to block my access to even apply for factual innocence," Mr. Buckheit said. "If there's no police report, you can't argue with the judge that you're factually innocent."

He asked the Atherton City Council to call for an investigation, saying that one of the officers involved testified in court that his police report had been altered.

"Order (city manager Jerry) Gruber and (chief Mike) Guerra to refer the report-tampering to the appropriate agency — not the San Mateo County District Attorney," Mr. Buckheit said at the Jan. 20 council meeting.

Chief Guerra told The Almanac he couldn't comment on the situation, as there is a pending lawsuit, but did say, "We take those things very seriously, and we're looking into Mr. Buckheit's (allegations)."

A factual innocence petition is a relatively rare legal procedure. The petitioner, in this case Mr. Buckheit, must prove that there is no reasonable cause to believe that he or she committed a crime. Once granted, the arrest records are expunged and the case sealed.

"I've been totally exonerated," he said. "The judge said he was deeply disturbed by (the handling of the case)."

According to Mr. Wagstaffe, the DA's office "vigorously opposed" the factual innocence petition, but that the judge saw things differently.

"Judge Mark Forcum said the victim did have bruises, but that you can't say for sure where she got them," said Mr. Wagstaffe.

Mr. Buckheit said he's not thrilled about going public with his situation, but that he had no choice.

"What's happening isn't right, and it shouldn't just get swept under the rug," he said.


Posted by Mohamed Said, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm

This must have happened at night. You never see then during the day patrolling. Just at night, during their round-a-bouts on ECR.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2010 at 12:59 am

Mr.Hines - No one is litigating their case on your forum
The case was litigated before a judge
This paper is a place to report facts
This forum is a place to discuss issues that effect the community
If anyone pulls a Bothum on you--your posters will come to your rescue
We all promise

Posted by Bizarre, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2010 at 1:39 am

Ed, couldn't have said it better. Picking up on Mr. Hine's comment on the sister thread, what is Town Square for? You write an article about a guy and he makes one very factual comment and you lock down the item? It seemed to me that he had a right to do that since the original article had that allegation yet you then deleted items referring to it (police report tampering or alteration) saying it was unfounded. It seemed like you challenged his credibility and he should have the right to respond to that challenge.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2010 at 6:36 am

Another place to report the facts about Atherton.

San Mateo Daily Journal Community Forum

I have been posting there for several years about very serious subjects. At one time they did shut the entire site down (40 days) and deleted all of my articles/posts. Things have changed for the better and I recommend that site.

A recent example you will see: Stogner trys, I am so thankful that I spotted this post and moved it when I did.

Posted by unanswered questions, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2010 at 8:03 am

Mr. Hine:

You locked the other post before we received a reply from Ms. Gemmet to the question posed by Amateur Editor.

As was accurately recounted by Amateur Editor, an Atherton Police officer who shall remain nameless testified in open court that his police report has been altered.

This is not the first time that a police report being altered in recent memory. Officer Clark Yee was prosecuted by Mr. Wagstaffe on the very same grounds. Hence it stands to reason that Mr. Wagstaffe would seek justice in Mr. Buckheit\'s matter as well. (Please pardon the digression.)

Ms. Gemmet referred to Mr. Buckheit\'s allegation as just that, an allegation. Ms. Gemmet failed to acknowledge that Mr. Buckheit did not make an allegation. Mr. Buckheit made a statement of fact which are documented in court transcripts.

Ms. Gemmet also quoted Mr. Wagstaffe in paraprashing the comments of Judge Forcum. It appears as though Ms. Gemmet was not curious enought to inquire as to whether Mr. Wagstaffe was in the courtroom (he was not) or whether he read the transcript.

I respectfully submit that lazy journalism is shoddy journalism. I respectfully submit to you that we, the readers of your paper deserve an explanation from Ms. Gemmet.

I await your reply Mr. Hine should Ms. Gemmet be to shy to speak for herself.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm

For those Atherton residents serious about your Town.

Mr. Jon Buckheit has been very straight forward to the Council, City Manager, and Police Chief about what he expected to happen by tomorrow. It is unfortunate for all of you that your Police Chief is unwilling to identify the officer or officers who committed a Felony against him. Lets think how hard could this be you only have 12 officers, you subtract the original officer who testified a crime had been committed that leaves 11 including the Chief.

If he can't solve that crime I think that says it all.

Posted by bemused, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Atherton has two detectives. One is a computer expert. Between the two of them they should be able to figure out who dunnit.

Posted by crime novel,, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm

One for sure or both detectives were involved from the beginning and both by now.
Expect them to round up the usual suspects -- it has worked before

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 5, 2010 at 12:14 am

It is a clear conflict of interest for the Atherton Police or San Mateo District Attorney to investigate this police report tampering incident. It's simply equivalent to asking the fox if the henhouse is okay. Watergate started with some relatively stupid petty crimes and turned into a national scandal of historical proportions through the cover-up that ensued. I expect this incident to turn into a similarly-scaled scandal for Atherton for the same reasons. Pres. John F. Kennedy was found of stating "a mistake doesn't become a problem until you fail to correct it."

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2010 at 5:24 am


Thomas Casey III, Counsel for San Mateo County, said yesterday that Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office found that the allegations made by Ramona Gatto against District Attorney Jim Fox and Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt were without basis.
"He said the attorney general's finding underscores the fact that police reports are not confidential documents,"

Web Link

source:November 26, 2002, 12:00 AM SMDJ

Posted by deep throat, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

Candle lighter is right.

The scandal that is smoldering now will soon be something big. I have inside knowledge that Jon Buckheit isn\'t the only recent victim of evidence tampering by the Atherton Police Department.

As was the case with Watergate, the chief executive of the PD will be answering the question \"what did you know and when did you know it?\"

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 6, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Interesting story out of the Mercury News: San Jose detective faces criminal probe over police work

Web Link

"Matty Hrncir, who once worked as a detective in the elite Sexual Assaults Investigations Unit, could face criminal charges in a highly unusual probe that potentially implicates the officer, a nine-year veteran, of a felony charge of filing false police reports, according to her lawyer, Terry Bowman."

"Assistant Police Chief Daniel Katz on Friday confirmed that San Jose investigators delivered the case to the district attorney's office earlier this month for possible prosecution."

"Police departments have a responsibility to clean up their own house, and if they feel there is a problem with an officer, they should investigate it thoroughly," said William Rapoport, a veteran San Mateo County lawyer who specializes in law enforcement. "If the case has merit, submitting it for prosecution is beneficial to the department and the community at-large and to the judicial system.''

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