News - December 22, 2010

Buckheit offers Atherton deal to settle lawsuit over arrest

by Renee Batti

Saying he's "willing to be reasonable if you are," Atherton resident Jon Buckheit told the Atherton City Council on Dec. 15 that his $10 million lawsuit against the town could be settled with far less pain to the town if the council authorizes an investigation by a court-appointed investigator of an altered police report on his 2008 arrest.

Mr. Buckheit made his statement prior to the closed-session meeting of the council, during which his lawsuit was to be discussed.

"The ball is in your court," he said, urging the council to instruct Police Chief Mike Guerra not to go forward with his plan to have a retired police chief investigate how false information was added to the police report that was written after a domestic violence incident at Mr. Buckheit's home.

Chief Guerra announced that he was hiring Pete Peterson to investigate the matter days after Mr. Buckheit named police officer Dean DeVlugt as the person who changed the report.

The altered report identifies the son of the woman involved in the domestic dispute as a victim of a "physical/strong arm" assault, according to a computer database log Mr. Buckheit had obtained during the discovery phase of his federal lawsuit against the town, three police officers, and other parties. The boy had previously been identified as a witness.

But Mr. Buckheit and others say a former police officer appointed by the town's current police chief is not a good choice to conduct the investigation, and have urged Chief Guerra to allow a judge to appoint a neutral investigator. He told the Almanac earlier this month that if a judge-appointed investigator determines that the police-report alteration was a mistake rather than an intentional criminal act, he would be willing to live with the determination.

After making his statement to the council, Mr. Buckheit told the Almanac that he's not interested in "turning this thing into payday for myself. ... I just want to be made whole, and get some justice. ... I'm not trying to bankrupt the town. I'm trying to get the town's leaders to do their jobs."

He said that although he would seek no punitive damages in settling the case if the council agrees to the court-supervised investigation, he would not agree to walk away empty-handed. So far, his attorney fees are "well over $200,000," and possibly near $300,000, he told the Almanac.

Mr. Buckheit was granted a declaration of factual innocence in San Mateo County Superior Court earlier this year, wiping his record clean of the arrest — the result of an incident during which he was injured and called the police for help.

During the factual innocence trial, the officer who had filed the police report testified that he hadn't added the child assault charge, nor had he intended to do so.


Posted by Jurisprudence, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

His fees were nearing $300k when this was written. How much did he spend in the 16 months since?

How much did Atherton spend defending this suit? I hope they recover costs.

Saying no to this settlement offer appears to be one of the few prudent decisions the council made this past decade.

Posted by GPS, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 7, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Jurisprudence--unless you've already managed to have your property annexed into Atherrton recently, it is still within in unincorporated county- not west Atherton.
However, the other three officers involved here, are represented by an attorney who does live in west Atherton which he can afford with all the money he makes cleaning up the APD's messes. He must love you guys.

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