Seven months have passed since Atherton's police chief asked the San Mateo County district attorney to investigate the charge that a police report was falsified to bring a trumped-up charge of child abuse against an Atherton resident.
Steve Wagstaffe, the deputy district attorney, said in April that the investigation by his office should be wrapped up in two to four weeks. Not only has that not happened, but the investigation has been in limbo almost from the start, causing concern among the public that Atherton police officers might have engaged in an illegal act to harm a resident, and may never have to answer for it.
The issue centers on the report written on the arrest of resident Jon Buckheit, who called police out to his house in October 2008 to help in a domestic violence incident. Although Mr. Buckheit told the police his then-girlfriend was the offender, and he had the injuries to prove it, he was arrested.
Mr. Buckheit was never charged, but his conflict with the town and the county continues.
When Mr. Buckheit successfully sued the town to obtain his police report months after his arrest, it was to have all documentation needed to petition the Superior Court for a declaration of factual innocence in the domestic violence incident.
What he found when he reviewed the long-withheld report was shocking: In addition to a charge that he had committed violence against his girlfriend, another charge accused him of violence against her young son.
Mr. Buckheit won his declaration of factual innocence in a trial in January, but the courtroom testimony of Officer Tony Dennis raised new questions: Mr. Dennis said that, although he had written and signed the report, he hadn't included the child abuse charge, and that it was added without his knowledge.
Prior to the trial, Mr. Buckheit had filed a $10 million lawsuit in federal court against the town and San Mateo County over matters related to the arrest, including an assertion that his arrest was the result of a county policy of discriminating against men when domestic abuse cases are reported.
After the declaration of innocence was granted, he turned the heat up on the town and Police Chief Mike Guerra to find out who had altered the report despite there being no evidence that the boy had been a victim of violence.
Although he sought an outside investigation into the matter -- by the state attorney general or the FBI, for example -- Mr. Buckheit strongly objected when Chief Guerra turned it over to the county District Attorney's Office.
"It's just totally inappropriate," he said. "I'm suing the county, which includes the D.A., so how can he pass judgment on the wrongfulness of what was done to me? The D.A. has a vested interest in not exposing the wrongdoing."
Mr. Wagstaffe rejected the argument that his office couldn't be relied on to conduct a thorough and fair investigation.
So what has stalled the investigation? When Judge Mark Forcum granted Mr. Buckheit's statement of innocence, he sealed all court and police records on the matter, allowing them to be unsealed only by Mr. Buckheit. And Mr. Buckheit, insisting that the investigation must be done by an outside party, won't release the police report to the district attorney.
"As long as we aren't given the records, we can't conduct this investigation," Mr. Wagstaffe said. He said he had requested the report months ago through Mr. Buckheit's attorney, Robert Carey. But Mr. Carey said he intended to ask the attorney general to take up the investigation. "So the ball goes back into their court," Mr. Wagstaffe said.
Mr. Carey could not be reached for comment. Mr. Buckheit said the attorney general's office was asked to investigate, "but they won't take it on."
So what might break the stalemate? Mr. Buckheit said the attorney general might agree to investigate with Mr. Wagstaffe's permission, and hopes the district attorney will agree to write a joint letter with Mr. Carey to appeal for help from the state agency or the FBI.