Almanac

Viewpoint - December 8, 2010

Editorial: Finally, Atherton orders police probe

Responding to increasing public pressure, Atherton Police Chief Mike Guerra shared the welcome news Sunday that he has hired an outside investigator to determine if one of his officers intentionally added false information to a police report on Jon Buckheit, a resident who is suing the town for $10 million over his arrest in 2008.

The announcement came following a whirlwind of activity in the case, which began Dec. 1 when Mr. Buckheit upped the ante by revealing records that show Officer Dean DeVlugt added an allegation of child assault to the police report after Mr. Buckheit's arrest.

Whether Officer DeVlugt did illegally falsify the record is of critical importance in the lawsuit Mr. Buckheit has filed against the town. It is not clear why Chief Guerra has not ordered an investigation until now. Although the arrest record was sealed after Mr. Buckheit won a declaration of factual innocence in a San Mateo County court, the judge ruled that the Atherton Police Department was to be given access to all the essential records.

Nevertheless, after months of silence on the matter, Chief Guerra issued a long press release over the weekend explaining why he was moving forward. In an interview with The Almanac on Monday, he said he believes the internal investigation will be finished within weeks.

But before we can applaud the chief for finally moving forward, we highly recommend that he follow Mr. Buckheit's suggestion that he arrange to have a judge or retired judge appoint an investigator "based on his or her own judgment," and to supervise the investigation. If Chief Guerra wants to make sure that his decision is respected by all parties, including Mr. Buckheit, he must follow a protocol that is beyond reproach.

This case began in October 2008, when Mr. Buckheit called police, claiming he was the victim of a domestic assault by his live-in girlfriend. But instead of arresting the girlfriend, officers Tony Dennis and DeVlugt arrested Mr. Buckheit. He was never charged, and later won a declaration of factual innocence from a San Mateo County judge.

During the trial, Officer Dennis testified that his police report had been altered by someone else. Mr. Buckheit ascertained who changed the report through the legal discovery process in his civil case.

Since the report-alteration matter came to light about a year ago, Mr. Buckheit has pressed Chief Guerra to investigate and make public who altered the record, and to discipline that officer. But the chief has stonewalled, although by court order he had access to all the essential records.

On another front, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, who has said he can't investigate because records in the case were sealed, will also get a copy of arrest record, Mr. Buckheit said last week.

In our view, it is critically important for Atherton to get to the bottom of this issue, given that Mr. Buckheit's lawsuit could be very damaging to the town if the plaintiff prevails. In addition, Atherton residents must be assured that if corruption has found its way into their police department, it will be weeded out. We also strongly urge Chief Guerra to make his findings public at the earliest possible time so the rumors and innuendoes about the case can be put to rest.

We would also urge the City Council to once again consider establishing a police oversight committee. It has been nearly a year since the council looked at the idea, but on a 4-1 vote in March, the matter was tabled, with a promise to look at it again in a year or so.

The Buckheit case is more than enough reason to give the idea serious consideration. If such a committee were in place now, the Buckheit case could have been resolved long ago.

Many years ago the Atherton Police Department had a solid reputation as a service-oriented organization dedicated to protecting residents and their homes.

But that has changed. Now, with the pending Buckheit case, the apparent police harassment of former finance director John Johns, and several other incidents, the department has lost its luster. And many residents still remember the troubled tenure of Chief Steve Cader, who left the force in 2000 after facing charges that he voted in an Atherton election although he wasn't a resident.

Atherton's sworn police officers are paid handsomely for their service — an average of more than $100,000 a year. With about 50 percent of the town's budget invested in police officer compensation alone, residents have a right to demand a top-notch police force, and they are not getting that today.

Comments

Posted by Finally!, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:43 pm

This clear sighted editorial from the Almanac may finally embolden Atherton's Town Council to muster enough backbone to both exhibit and expect some leadership and accountability, by giving the Police Department the audit that should have been done fifteen years ago. Too bad the Police Department has been left unattended for so long and that things had to get this far out of control. Thank you Almanac for caring more about the APD than our Council has for years.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I suspect that the 1594 views of and 122 comments on the Alamanc's article on this subject had a significant impact on the Almanac's decision to write this editorial.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm

"I suspect that the 1594 views of and 122 comments on the Alamanc's article on this subject had a significant impact on the Almanac's decision to write this editorial."

Ya think?


Posted by Tim Wulff, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2010 at 9:47 pm

This is a simple case. Testified to under oath by a police officer, with factual evidence in support.

If they were going to find wrongdoing, they would have done so long ago to enhance the Town and the Department.

The fact that they've outsourced only means that there will definitely be no finding, and they want to protect the Town and the Department from the consequences as best they can.

Waiting and ignoring isn't working. Its only making it worse because it is an irritant that is making people talk. They will find nothing and then wait for that to go away.

Why can't people wake up to the fact that they are powerless and have have no recourse against wrongdoing in this Department or in the County and never have had.

The only value in this situation is the exposure to public scrutiny of what is so.

Anyone who for one second considers that there will be punishment for this officer is a fool, in my opinion.


Posted by just a thought, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Menlo Voter:

I'm sorry for not being clear about my previous suggestion.

I was referring to the County Sheriff's Department, not APD.

I think they are the only political power capable of effecting change in the time frame needed...i.e...now. There are a lot of good people there....just not the ones in charge.


Posted by Anonymous and Interested, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 5:24 am

Steve Wagstaffe should NOT be investigating. He will always, always, always, cover for law enforcement , no matter what. (See: Greg Munks.)


Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:26 am

Dear Chief Guerra and Lieutenant Wade

Attached please find a copy of a heavily redacted fraud report along with a series of e-mails between Sherman Hall and the former Interim City Manager Wende Protzman. I obtained these e-mails as a result of a public records request for Wende Protzman's e-mails.

[Portion deleted. Please don't use Town Square to allege criminal conduct by a named person.]

I ask that this apparent falsification of a police report be included within the context of the investigation about to be initiated by Mr. Peterson, who if I read correctly the Almanac News article of this morning will be investigating Mr. DeVlught.

I also ask that I be given the opportunity to speak with Mr. Peterson as he conducts his investigation. I have reason to believe that Dr. Buckheit's experience is not isolated, that it is not an aberration. Instead I believe it is indicative of a culture of corruption that has enveloped the Police Department. I believe it is part of a widely accepted pattern of conduct which you have been too timid to take on during your tenure as Chief.

I did write to you before expressing my hope and confidence in your ability to clean up the Atherton PD. In view of recent events I have been terribly disappointed. You have had within your possession the very information Dr. Buckheit confronted you with to force your hand and to retain Mr. Peterson. Your conduct in the Buckheit matter has been shameful. You have proven to be unworthy of the trust I placed in you.

As you can see I have copied Ms. Levin in on this report. I would urge her as your supervisor and whom as you indicated in your press release concerning the DeVlught scandal is part of the system of management controls to ensure that you and your subordinates behave properly.

Finally, I would like to reiterate a point I believe I made clear in an earlier e-mail and in a posting on the Almanac News Forum.

I have absolutely no confidence in Mr. Lance Bayer's ability as an investigator. I have no interest in being interviewed by him. I view his appointment to investigate my citizen's complaint to as a whitewash.

[Portion deleted. Please don't use Town Square to allege criminal conduct by a named person.]

Thank you very much.


John P. Johns, CPA


Posted by Bill Rubin, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I was one of those surveyed a few years ago. I was part of the 97% who approved at least in part of the job the Atherton PD was doing.

I am no longer satisfied. I read Chief Guerra's press release on the investigation of Dr. Buckheit's falsified police report.

Chief Guerra provides no explanation as to why he waited so long to conduct this investigation. Instead the Chief engages in self serving statements about the supposed ethical standards and control mechanisms in place in his force and in the Town.

I want a police department I can trust. I do not see how that is possible with Mike Guerra in charge.


Posted by Atherton Realtor, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm

The nonsense with the Police Department has gone on far too long and it is far too public.

I make a living here in Town. My business is suffering.

If Guerra won't fix this, then find someone who will!


Posted by Marion, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Our Chief of Police has received a vote of no confidence from the Almanac News and from the realtor community.

It is time for Mike Guerra to go. Maybe his replacement can get to the bottom of the Buckhiet matter.


Posted by MS, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

The Almanac made the right decision by deleting allegations against an Atherton Police Officer made by John P. Johns. Until any allegations are actually proven, they have no business being aired out in public to damage an Officer's reputation.

It is too bad they did not apply the same standard to the publication of their hit piece on Officer DeVlugt. These too, are just allegations right now.

Police Chief Mike Guerra has taken this issue very seriously. His hiring of Pete Peterson, a veteran command staff member of law enforcement for many years, is proof of this. Chief Peterson is a seasoned professional who cuts no slack for anyone who doesn't measure up to the highest standards in law enforcement.

Chief Peterson will determine whether any wrongdoing occurred. Remember, the APD is not shy about taking action when proof is offered. The golf club incident is a good example of this.

Until Chief Peterson makes his determination it is irresponsible for anyone, including (and especially) the Almanac to speculate on the alleged guilt of Officer DeVlugt, who is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

We need to wait to see what Chief Peterson finds.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm

MS:

you can't be serious. Guerra has taken this "seriously?" If he had taken it seriously he would have investigated it a year ago, not when his hand was forced. If Mr. Buckheit hadn't forced his hand it would still be uninvestigated.

" the APD is not shy about taking action when proof is offered."

are you deranged? There has been so much proof of problems with corruption in the APD as to make your statement laughable. I can only assume you are actually an APD officer.


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:16 pm

MS you seem to be missing a simple point here, that is if Law Enforcement refuses to investigate which in turn equals no recommendation to the District Attorney's Office, which equals no charges filed, which equals no trial.

The Buckheit's case demonstrates the lack of Law Enforcement in San Mateo County doing the very minimum standard. Police Chief Mike Guerra has NOT taken this issue very seriously as you have claimed. He has known about this for over 1 YEAR with NO ACTION.

A Citizens Review Committee could solve this stall pattern by Law Enforcement. Also this CRC could easily verify what Mr. John John's is stating to be factual.


Posted by MS, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Menlo Voter and Michael G. Stogner are both wrong.

There have been two accusations of corruption by two people:

1. Johns. He's made many, mainly in a "best defense is a good offense" strategy when he was accused of criminal wrongdoing.

2. Buckheit. That's the subject of Chief Peterson's investigation.

You both forget that it was Buckheit who imperiously demanded the investigation only be conducted according to his own rules for months, refusing to unseal the report. When Chief Guerra and the D.A. were finally given permission to proceed, they have both done so promptly. Even now, Buckheit is insisting he run the show on this investigation!

There is no corruption on Chief Guerra's part I can see here. I also am not aware of any other allegations of corruption other than the golf club incident, which was dealt with.

Sorry if the facts are so inconvenient for you.


Posted by Aron Stewart, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Guerra should just resign. His department is out of control. He had a year to get control but he did not.

Henderson was falsely accused of battery. Clark Yee was set up. These two were innocent but proof is yet to come.

For proof that Buckheit was falsely accused, look to Judge Forcum's ruling. For proof that Johns' was falsely accused look to the certificate of commendation he got from the City Council. The last time I checked, they don't hand these out to criminals.

MS posts anonymously. MS is probably just another dirty Atherton copy seeking redemption.


Posted by Columbo, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:40 pm

[Post deleted. Don't attack other posters.]


Posted by skywriter, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Yes but which one? So many of them are dirty. I get the creeps just when I drive through Town on the El Camino and I see one of the cop cars comming from the station a block away.


Posted by just a thought, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Gosh, I can't imagine why Mr. Buckheit wouldn't trust the DA and the APD implicitly...golly...it must be me...

This establishment shill took PT Barnum's phrases to heart I guess.


Posted by Martin Gunderson, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:47 pm

If our police department ever did have a 97% approval rating, it is highly doubtful that it does now.

Glenn Nielsen ordered pins celebrating the results of the survey done a few years ago. The Department might as well throw any pins leftover into the trash.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 9, 2010 at 6:51 am

Gee MS, I wonder why Buckheit doesn't trust the APD or the DA's office? Falsly arrested, DA and others know of the falsification of a report for over a year and nothing is done about it. The DA had the report. They didn't need a copy. They had the information, it was testified to by an officer, in court, under oath, in front of a Seputy DA, but nothing is done about it. Gee, why doesn't Buckheit trust the DA to do an investigation. Fox? Hen house? Get it? Duh.


Posted by Pete McConnell, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 9, 2010 at 7:33 am

There is a simple explanation for the Atherton Police Department's failure to take disciplinary action against DeVlught.

Once DeVlught has been driven out of the force, all of his secrets will come out. This is a pandora's box that Guerra and Wagstaffe would prefer stay firmly shut.


Posted by In the know, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 8:33 am

It's not just the Buckheit case. Wagstaffe has many Pandora's boxes whose lids might just fly open, despite his attempts to keep them firmly shut.


Posted by Central Menlo, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

97% approval rating at one point, might be a good number.

That's not such a good number for typing...3 of every 100 makes for an mistake in every sentence. Imagine 1 in 33 people (about one on every street block) dissatisfied, untrusting, concerned, or afraid.


Posted by The Numbers, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

The survey Atherton conducted on the police department was meaningless for a number of reasons.

They sent the survey to only select residents. This is a fact, as several critics of the police department reported not receiving one.

Much more importantly...they measured the wrong variable. A good book, _How to Lie With Statistics_, is right on point.

Good customer service organizations know that to get a handle on how you're really doing, you survey the people who have had significant interactions with your organization. For example, AT&T wants to to know how customer service is _from the people who call with a problem_. They know they could get a much higher favorable rating if they simply surveyed everyone, including the much higher number of people who never called, but they want to improve their organization, so they focus on the metric that counts.

If the APD had surveyed people who had a problem (any problem, from calling the APD to report a crime, to being the victim of the APD) you'd see a MUCH higher number than 3% dissatisfied.

Of course Central Menlo's point about 97% approval not being that great is well taken. But it's not really true.


Posted by 3% solution, a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:29 am

maybe the 97% was really just another one of those typos


Posted by just a thought, a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Pete McConnell and in the know:

You are exactly correct.

And this explains why the powers that be land with both feet on the small individuals who have the courage to speak out into the vacuum.

There is safety in numbers.

It is obligation of citizens to get off their butt and stop being lazy, self-involved or intimidated.

ITS YOUR GOVERNMENT

If its malfunctioning, its YOUR fault, and no one else's.

Stop blaming government officials and get to work. Organize, spend money and establish the new institutions needed and required to protect individual citizen's rights and bring the government to exposure and accountability.

This is extremely serious and real, and it is also fraught with urgency.

To fail to act is irresponsible and when you wish to blame someone, I suggest you each consult your mirror.

JAT


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