News - March 10, 2010

Atherton: Sixty show up for outreach meeting

by Andrea Gemmet

About 60 people came to the Atherton community outreach meeting on Monday night, Feb. 22, and while most wanted to know about the recent spate of home burglaries or to complain about traffic problems, a few had more serious grievances to air to City Manager Jerry Gruber and Police Chief Mike Guerra.

Atherton resident Jon Buckheit is suing the town for allegedly violating his civil rights in a 2008 domestic dispute that resulted in his arrest. Mr. Buckheit subsequently won a declaration of factual innocence and had his record wiped clean. He said that the police report from his arrest included a trumped-up child abuse charge.

"One of your officers said he never wrote any child abuse allegations (in the report)," Mr. Buckheit said to Chief Guerra at the meeting, held in the Jennings Pavilion at Holbrook-Palmer Park. "I think you should investigate and you should fire whoever's responsible."

Chief Guerra said that the police records were sealed by the San Mateo Superior Court judge who granted the factual innocence declaration, and that he was working to get access in order to do an investigation.

Lifelong Atherton resident Melinda Tevis said that Chief Guerra himself had been rude and intimidating to her when he was an officer. She said she had stopped calling the police because she knew that the police department had put her on a "do not respond list," a charge Chief Guerra denied.

"We do not have a do not respond list," he said.

Ms. Tevis said she'd always been a supporter of the Atherton police department, but in the past five years she's seen troubling behavior.

"I'm looking for serious evidence of meaningful change," she said.

And resident Colleen Anderson said an Atherton officer once approached her for a $10,000 loan.

Other complaints involved train noise, speeding problems and lack of traffic enforcement. Several people at the meeting said their homes had been burglarized in a recent string of break-ins that apparently ended with the arrest of a Polish citizen on Feb. 19. The suspect, Beata Wyszynska, 59, was described by Chief Guerra as "a real Gypsy" who apparently traveled to Atherton from Chicago.

The police department did have some supporters in the crowd, including former police chief Dick Moore.

"I love my community and the police department. I think we all do," he said, urging support for Chief Guerra.

Peter Carpenter, president of the Atherton Civic Interest League, summed up the state of things in his comments at the end of the meeting by urging cooperation between town officials and residents.

"We are a community. It's not we and them," he said. "We have a lot of work to do."

At the start of the meeting, Chief Guerra made a PowerPoint presentation with crime statistics, comparisons with other small local police departments, and a synopsis of all nine citizen complaints made against the department since 2005. None of the citizen complaints, which are separate from criminal investigations or internal personnel complaints, were sustained after being investigated, Chief Guerra said.


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