Pete Peterson, an outside investigator and retired police chief, was hired last week to conduct a personnel investigation of the alteration of the police report detailing the 2008 arrest of Atherton resident Jon Buckheit during a domestic violence incident at his home, Atherton Police Chief Mike Guerra told The Almanac this morning (Dec. 6).
Last week, Mr. Buckheit named Officer Dean DeVlugt as the person who changed the report to include an allegation that Mr. Buckheit had physically assaulted a young boy during the incident -- a charge that a courtroom judge later said had "absolutely no basis."
The change in the report became a public issue a year ago, when Atherton police officer Tony Dennis, who wrote the report, testified in court that he had not included the child assault charge, nor was it his intention to do so.
Chief Guerra said that Mr. Peterson is a retired police chief, although he was uncertain which police force he retired from. A search turned up a person by his name who retired from the Clayton (Contra Costa County) police force.
Chief Guerra said Mr. Peterson also served in a command position with the Oakland Police Department. He said he had met Mr. Peterson only a few weeks ago, and that he had been recommended to him as someone who conducted such investigations.
The personnel investigation is likely to be one of two concerning whether the alteration of the police report was a criminal act or legally permissible. Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac last week that he will reverse an earlier decision and allow the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office access to his police report, which was sealed by the judge who granted Mr. Buckheit a declaration of factual innocence earlier this year.
Mr. Buckheit has withheld access to the report since the D.A.'s office was asked to investigate last March, insisting that it would be inappropriate for that office to investigate because it has a conflict of interest: The county is a defendant -- along with the town of Atherton -- in a $10 million lawsuit Mr. Buckheit filed last year.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said on Dec. 3 that if the police report is released, "That will be great. ... We will then investigate the matter."
In a press release posted on the town of Atherton's blog over the weekend, Chief Guerra outlined the process for investigating the matter, saying that when the department "receives a Citizen's Complaint or discovers alleged acts of misconduct from internal sources, the allegations are analyzed to determine if they are potentially criminal in nature and/or alleged violations of the Department's standards of conduct."
If an alleged violation is possibly criminal, two investigations must be conducted, he said. The facts gleaned in a personnel investigation, however, can't be shared with the criminal investigator, he added. That's because the personnel investigator can require those being interviewed to talk, setting aside their constitutional protection against self-incrimination, Mr. Guerra explained.
Chief Guerra said he believes the internal investigation will be wrapped up "within weeks."
Mr. Buckheit dashed out his response to the announcement over the weekend in a letter to Chief Guerra urging him to allow a judge or retired judge to appoint an investigator "based on his or her own judgment," and to supervise the investigation.
"In this way, the results of the investigation will be immunized from being challenged as unfair in any way."
Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac this morning 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.
In his letter to Chief Guerra, Mr. Buckheit requested that the chief arrange to have the city attorney and Robert Carey, Mr. Buckheit's attorney, jointly submit the matter to a judge.
"I believe this is the best result not only for me, but also for the Town of Atherton and its Police Department," he wrote.
"To be clear, if you choose not to adopt my suggestion on how such an investigation should be conducted, I am requesting that the City Council instruct the City Manager to direct you to do so."
Go to Almanac article, Dec. 2 for more information.
To read Chief Guerra's statement, go to Atherton press release.