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.