Resident calls for probe of police department

Jonathan Buckheit won a 'declaration of factual innocence' after his arrest

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by "cop out" cop out?? cop out!!! t!!
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Looks like APD finally picked on someone with the principals money and time to take a serious stand on exactly what we all should expect our officers.
This is actually wonderful news for the Dept.
The Police Dept. has been left to its own devices for over a decade now while a divided council provided zero direction, and ineffective management sat paralized on the sidelines. It has been predictably unhealthy for APD's internal culture--too much power, autonomy and blind trust and not all that much really, to keep them occupied =eventual problems. Look at the number of expensive internal incidents out of APD in just the last few years. I can think of 6 from 2009 alone and these are just from amongst themselves.
The public relations 96% approval rating for the Dept., is really only a reflection of our overly privileged complacency and any Americans instinctive need for faith in law enforcement. They deserve something more.
Genuine appreciation for Atherton's finest will come only when residents like Mr. Buckheit care and expect enough to hold them to full account, and also some officers who would like to be prouder of their own Dept. reset expectation morale and standards---Unless of course either management or the Council finally decide to participate.
This Buckheit story is BIG--a chance for everyone to wake up, pay close attention, think about what is at stake here, and CARE!!!!
In the meantime you might want to think twice before dialing 911 for help-you could end up in cuffs.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have sent the following message to each Council Member, the Town Manager, the Police Chief and the Town Counsel:

I believe that the time has come to establish a mechanism for citizen oversight of the Atherton Police Department. I take this position not because I feel that there serious problems but because I believe there is a growing level of concern and distrust regarding the Police Department. Rather than waiting until we have a crisis on our hands I urge you to be proactive on this matter. I also believe that the oversight function of the proposed committee is far more important than their proposed review function - the primary objective is to prevent problems before they occur.

I am submitting this proposal to the Council as a whole, rather than to any individual member, because I realize that the issue is controversial and I wish to avoid any polarization which might occur if one of the Council members were to be the sponsor.

Police Oversight Committee (Draft)

The Atherton Town Council's Police Oversight Committee shall advise the Council, the Town Manager and the Police Chief on police policies and procedures, and shall serve as the review board for citizen complaints regarding Police Department activities.

The Oversight Committee shall consist of five citizens who are residents of Atherton and who have voted in at least three of the last five general elections. The Town Manager and the Police Chief shall be non-voting ex officio members of the Police Oversight Committee.

The Oversight Committee is subject to the Brown Act and may meet in closed session only when discussing personnel matters specifically exempted by the Brown Act. All actions and recommendations of the Oversight Committee shall be made in public session.

The Oversight Committee shall adjudicate complaints from citizens on any matter that has not been satisfactorily resolved by the Police Chief or the Town Manager. The decision of the Oversight Committee shall, unless appealed to the Town Council, be final and binding on the Town.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Police Oversight Committee The primary objective is to prevent problems before they occur.

Well said.

Best of Health

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Peter--good thinking and very similar to a past post discussion you had with "Candlelighter"on his proposal a Police Commission--would you mind posting these side by side here on the forum or distributing both plans to the council??
We might as well get as much input as possible from everywhere and I remember the original idea looked pretty good as well
Candle's post was ?? Oct or Nov?? I think but you will remember--thanks

2 people like this
Posted by Proud to be blue
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Here's a good example of BIG money buying justice. I think if probes were done on various Atherton residents and what rules and laws they had to bend to make the type of money to buy anything, a lot more would be uncovered than any probe of the Atherton Police. There's a 97% satisfaction!! Our police should be congratulated for not bowing to this money like apparently the judge did. Too bad the council won't support our police officers.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Jonathan Buckheit, was falsely arrested, and the Police Report was Falsified.

Why did Steve Wagstaffe fight so hard the turning over of his Police Report?
Did he know a Fraud/Felony had been committed by law enforcement?
Was he protecting the Police Department instead of the Citizen?

"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."

"officers involved testified in court that his police report had been altered."

This is a FELONY committed by one or more APD Officers

I shared these thoughts and questions yesterday with the Town of Atherton during public comment 1:00 PM

Like this comment
Posted by red alert
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 2, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I do hope the sentiments expressed by True Blue are not representative of our police department. However I fear that they are.

I find True Blue\'s post to be very disturbing. It implies that the Atherton PD can arrest anybody for anything regardless of whether there is probable cause. It implies that each and every Atherton resident is suspect simply because of the wealth that he or she has attained and the presumption that such gains can only have been ill gotten.

True Blue also suggests that because a poorly designed survey purports to demonstrate overwhelming support for the Department, the actions of its officers are beyond reproach.

True Blue has unwittingly spoken far more persuasively than Mr. Carpenter ever could of the need for a Police Oversight Committee.

Better act quickly city council.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Dear Proud Blue,

What part of your Police Department committing crimes against a Citizen didn't you get.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Time for the residents of Atherton to know about.

Blue Code of Silence
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Blue Code of Silence (or Blue Wall of Silence) is an unwritten rule among police officers in the United States not to report on another colleague's errors, misconducts or crimes. If questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another officer (e.g. during the course of an official inquiry), if following the Blue Code of Silence it would be standard procedure to claim ignorance.
Ironically, it is similar to the code of silence in organized crime, like the Omertà.

Like this comment
Posted by simpleton
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Am I ignorant, simpleminded, naive?

I fail to understand how it is a citizen should be having raise this issue.

The City Council has been beset by scandal after scandal in the PD, everything from an inability of the former chief to control his anger, the hasty exit of his predecessor, the promotion of another to chief with marginal qualifications at best, the arrest and conviction of an officer on falsifying a police report and the list goes on.

Peter Carpenter has a good suggestion. However it doesn't go far enough.

The solution is for the City Council to call in the FBI, rather than having someone else make the call on the City's behalf.

Like this comment
Posted by drinking your own koolaid
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Mike Guerra moonlights as a management consultant.

Mik Guerra knows as well as anyone the value of having a third party come in and take a look at one's organization, especially after a change in command.

Mike Guerra should practice what he preaches.

Like this comment
Posted by censured
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I find being blocked by your Mickey Mouse paper offensive.

Like this comment
Posted by word police
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Dear Censured

Censured is something that happens to you (or should happen to you) when you act like Dick Cheney.

Censored is more likely what you meant.

Getting around censorship takes patience. Don't let Mickey Mouse get in the way of your 1st ammendment rights.

Like this comment
Posted by Lulu
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Wow!!! "proud to be blue" is right at the heart of the problem.
As a resident of another community -this is not "your" Dept. that you defend.
As a resident of Atherton-- this is in fact OUR Dept--that exists here for you to defend us.
Your obvious resentment for the financial success of some residents is very well evidenced in this Buckheit case--ultra educated, ultra successful. So how do you explain an even more dismissive attitude to those residents who don't even have the salary or massive pension that you will have at age fifty.
Please retire soon or go somewhere else and find a job protecting people you actually like instead of bullying and resenting our neighbors here.
P.S. How can any rich person BUY justice when the police unions already own the D.A.'s office

Like this comment
Posted by Cut the (%!*
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 2, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I was in the courtroom. Stephen Wagstaffe says in the article above that the judge said that the "victim did have bruises, but that you can't say for sure where she got them".

This never happened. Four Atherton police officers testified. Dean DeVlugt admitted that the photos of the woman didn't really show anything because his camera flash "washed them out". During the end, the judge said he found that absurd since the pictures of Buckheit (the true victim) showed clear injuries from the same camera.

[Portion deleted. Allegation about individual not verified.]

The judge took the unusual step of questioning Sergeant Anthony Kockler from the bench, asking him how he could have approved the police report.

Finally, much of this is sealed. But, Stephen Wagstaffe conveniently leaves out that there were actually TWO alleged victims. One is the woman he admits to. The second is another victim whom the Atherton Police actually invented (presumably as part of the alteration Tony Dennis admitted to) even though there were no allegations from either the woman or the so-called "second victim" that anything at all was done to the second victim. The D.A. admitted this was some sort of "big mistake" but still opposed the motion. The second victim was the woman's son and the police tried to invent child abuse charges. This is what really caused the judge to use very strong language during the rendering of his verdict, and you had to be there to appreciate it (tone of voice, etc.).

This is all absolutely reprehensible.

Like this comment
Posted by amatuer editor
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm

It does not appear as though Andrea Gemmet put forth much effort in writing her story.

An alternative explanation is that she left some good material on the cutting room floor without giving much thought.

[Portion deleted. We don't have verification for allegation about an individual.]

Ms. Gemmet also puts into print a statement by Mr. Wagstaffe for which there is no corroboration and for which Mr. Wagstaff received at best on a secondhand basis.

A question for Ms. Gemmet is, don't the people of Atherton and Menlo Park deserve better reporting?

This is not a rhetorical question for Ms. Gemmet. This is a question that is deserving of a response.

I await your reply Ms. Gemmet as do I suspect other readers of this post.

Like this comment
Posted by Call the FBI Have Atherton looked into
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm

FBI San Francisco

450 Golden Gate Avenue, 13th. Floor

San Francisco, California 94102-9523

(415) 553-7400

Have the system looked into Call the FBI. Make sure everyone is above board.

Like this comment
Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 2, 2010 at 11:51 pm

I am really baffled why the editor deleted items from two posts above that referred to Atherton police officer Tony Dennis stating during the court hearings that his police report had been altered. I have the transcript in front of me and it's a fact. The transcript:

Attorney Robert Carey: Is it your belief that someone changed your report or added this into the report?

Tony Dennis: That appears what happened, that appears to be what have [sic] happened, yes, because I do not remember putting that in there, nor was that my intention.

Attorney: Okay. Do you know who that individual is?

Tony Dennis: No, I did [sic] not.

Attorney: Did you make any investigation in order to determine?

Tony Dennis: I have not.

2 people like this
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Feb 3, 2010 at 12:13 am

Richard Hine is a registered user.

I'm closing this thread. Town Square is not the place to litigate your case.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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