News

Atherton: Investigation of police-report alteration limited in scope, Chief Guerra says

 

Critics of an investigator's report exonerating Atherton police officers of any wrongdoing in the alteration of a police report on the arrest of resident Jon Buckheit have called the investigation a whitewash.

But Police Chief Mike Guerra said this week that the investigation applied only to the police department's "personnel standards, conduct and performance," and it is up to the county district attorney to determine whether criminal acts were committed in the case.

Chief Guerra last March asked the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office to investigate Mr. Buckheit's charge that the police report of his 2008 arrest after a domestic violence incident was falsified when an officer added a charge of child assault hours after the original report had been filed. The D.A.'s office and Mr. Buckheit's attorney are negotiating details of that process.

The personnel investigation was conducted by Pete Peterson, a former police chief of a small California town. According to a Jan. 14 letter sent to Mr. Buckheit by Chief Guerra, Mr. Peterson concluded that the "acts (that) provided the basis for the complaint or allegation occurred; however, the investigation revealed that they were justified, lawful and proper."

Regarding Mr. Buckheit's charge that the police report had been criminally falsified, the letter stated that "the investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur."

The Almanac and members of the public will not be able to examine the entire report filed by Mr. Peterson, Chief Guerra said, because laws are in place protecting the confidentiality of internal personnel investigations.

In January 2010, Mr. Buckheit was granted a declaration of factual innocence in San Mateo County Superior Court. Atherton Police Officer Tony Dennis testified during the factual-innocence court proceedings that, although the police report bore his signature, the section recommending criminal charges for assaulting a child who was present during the domestic violence incident was not written by him.

During the trial, Judge Mark Forcum stated that "there's absolutely no basis to believe that Mr. Buckheit ever laid a finger on the child," according to the court transcript.

An examination of the police database showed that Officer Dean DeVlugt had added the child assault charge several hours after Officer Dennis submitted the report.

Mr. Buckheit strongly opposed Mr. Peterson's hiring, and pushed the town to ask a judge or retired judge to appoint a neutral investigator. The town instead authorized the hiring of Mr. Peterson, at a rate of $125 per hour, capped at $5,000 unless the city manager approved additional pay.

Chief Guerra said earlier this week that he didn't know how much the investigation cost, but that it didn't exceed the $5,000 cap.

Mr. Buckheit dismissed the findings of the Peterson investigation, and continues his push to have the matter investigated by an outside agency other than the D.A.'s office, noting that the county is among the defendants in a federal lawsuit he has filed regarding the arrest and its aftermath. The state Attorney General's Office or the F.B.I. would be more appropriate agencies to conduct the investigation, he maintains.

Meanwhile, Mr. Buckheit is asking for a meeting with Chief Guerra to discuss the investigation. He told The Almanac that among his questions is: Why wasn't he interviewed by Mr. Peterson before the investigation was concluded?

Go to Jan. 26 article for more details on the Peterson report.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Solution
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Sounds like the APD needs to revisit their own standards of performance and conduct!


Like this comment
Posted by only me
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Sounds like an admission by Guerra that illegal changes were made.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Without commenting on the veracity of Mr. Peterson's report, exactly what does "...regarding Mr. Buckheit's charge that the police report had been criminally falsified, the letter stated that "the investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur."

When Mr. Peterson says the "acts complained of," does he mean Mr. Buckheit's complaint or does he mean the falsification by the police officer?

Perhaps the Town of Atherton could manage to hire someone smart enough to write a clear concluding sentence to such an important report. Mr. Peterson has left all of us scratching our heads wondering what he meant.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Mr. Pete Peterson and Chief Mike Guerra are counting on/hoping his 30 page report never be public. Should taxpayers dollars be invested in a report that is not made public?


Like this comment
Posted by whitewash
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

The Peterson report is a sham and everyone knows it.

Guerra thinks he's being clever by characterizing the scope of the investigation as limited. He knows full well that the DA won't prosecute Buckheit's complaint with Peterson's "exoneration".

Has anybody asked how Mr. Guerra came to be aquainted with Mr. Peterson?

There might very well be a story there. Chances are Guerra knew that Peterson would agree to a coverup before making his selection of an investigator.

We all know Guerra's internal affairs investigation are a joke. He had Lance Bayer conduct an investigation of another citizen's complaint.


Like this comment
Posted by None
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 27, 2011 at 3:06 pm

This story says, "But Police Chief Mike Guerra said this week that the investigation applied only to the police department's "personnel standards, conduct and performance,"'

But didn't the report also comment on the JUDGE'S performance? Didn't it describe the judge as "confused" -- someone who wasn't well versed in the county domestic violence procedures?

If this investigation only applied to police officers, how on earth can they conclude anything about the performance of Judge Forcum?

This is just utter nonsense from Guerra


Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I have filed two criminal complaints concerning the apparent falsification of police reports 07-474 and 07-484.

I have asked Chief Guerra to acknowledge receipt of my crimninal complaints. The Chief has so far failed to respond.

Perhapps the Chief is hiding under his desk, attempting to shield himself from the fallout of the Peterson report and is unable to reach his telephone or his computer.


Like this comment
Posted by sultan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Throw the entire police department in a federal prison and let the US Attorney sort out who's guilty and who's innocent.


Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I agree with Sultan and Mr. Buckheit: this case is crying out to be investigated by an agency outside San Mateo. The boys in the good ole boy network- and that includes the new District Attorney- are just going to cover for each other.


Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Dear Readers

The following is the text of a public records request I submitted to the Town of Atherton.

I urge you all to submit a similar request to the Town. By doing so we can send a message to Guerra and Danielson that they can run but they can't hide.

Dear Ms. DellaSanta

Pursuant to the California Public Records Act, please provide

1) Copies of any documents in the City's possession including, but not limited to excerpts from the RIMS user manual, consultant studies or other documents made available to Mr. Pete Peterson during the course of his internal affairs investigation of Dr. Buckheit's falsified report, which describes the weaknesses or limitations of the systems used by Atherton Police officers in writing reports which would have caused Officer DeVlught or other officers to edit a report that had previously been approved by his supervisor without providing his supervisor the opportunity to review and approve the changes being made.

2) Copies of any records such as excerpts from the RIMS users manual or Atherton Police Department policies and procedures that would describe the procedures for amending or adding to a report that has been approved by a supervisor. (If I am not mistaken the procedure is for an officer to issue a supplemental report).

3) Copies of any writings in the custody of the Atherton Police Department that would document Officer Dean DeVlught's reasons for editing a previously approved report rather than issuing a supplemental report as is apparently consistent with established protocol.

Please respond to this public records request within 10 days.


Like this comment
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm

In the bigger picture, I actually find fault with the new City Council for not working with Mr. Buckheit in setting up an independent investigation that is to Mr. Buckheit's satisfaction. While I do not agree with some of Mr. Buckheit's actions following his arrest and still view the initial incident with some suspicion, clearly his rights to due process were violated solely on having to hire counsel to obtain the police report eight months in the making. While council members may feel their hands are tied at the advice of their city attorney (who clearly is on her way out) they should use common sense, grow some cojones and take matters into their own hands. As residents of Atherton elected by their fellow residents, they should be running the show, not the outsiders they hired such as Guerra and Furth who seem more interested with maintaining glowing resumes.

To those that tell Mr. Buckheit to keep fighting, remember that Atherton is where he chooses to live and I'm sure he derives little satisfaction in having to pursue his basic rights at the risk of offending his neighbors that choose to live in Atherton because of the privacy it affords. While POGO and others continue with their prediction of a big payout and increased parcel tax for it's residents, Guerra and Furth will be long gone and residents will be thinking about Mr. Buckheit when and if they have to write a larger check for the parcel tax. To those that feel that Mr. Buckheit has the means to fight this through federal court, perhaps but I would compare it to winning the battle but losing the war if I chose to remain a resident after the dust settles. It's time for someone on the council to show some leadership and take charge.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Thomas -

I agree with most of what you have said. It is unfortunate that Atherton's Town Council has not demonstrated much leadership in investigating their own police department. That is their job. That is their responsibility. That is why they were elected.

But I do take issue with your comment "...I actually find fault with the new City Council for not working with Mr. Buckheit in setting up an independent investigation that is to Mr. Buckheit's satisfaction." The standard for elected officials is not to live up to Mr. Buckheit's satisfaction, but to live up to every citizen's expectation for fairness from their police department. Why they let their police chief select a friend to perform what appears to be a superficial, whitewash investigation is beyond me... except to provide Mr. Buckheit's legal team with addition evidence of impropriety.

Mr. Buckheit is just one example of a citizen who was treated badly by the Atherton police. The Atherton police department's mistake was picking on a person who had the means and will to fight back. The Atherton Town Council's mistake is ignoring the problem.

You are correct that the citizens of Atherton will eventually pay a very high price and they will probably misdirect their anger at Mr. Buckheit instead of the real culprits. But that's not Mr. Buckheit's fault.


Like this comment
Posted by None
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:39 am

The people of Atherton are not alone. There are many people from all over San Mateo County - San Carlos; San Mateo; Burlingame, etc who have been treated badly by the police and the San Mateo District Attorney's office.

What is impressive is that the people of Atherton are actually speaking out about this injustice. Most citizens of San Mateo County don't seem to have the will to fight back.


Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jan 28, 2011 at 8:40 am

None
You should add Menlo Park to your list of Police Departments Behaving Badly.
They regularly treat minorities with discrimination and disrespect.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 9:04 am

Mr. Jon Buckheit is correcting an existing and on going problem with SOME members of the Atherton Police Department. He is doing this so he can live in his on town peacefully.

All of San Mateo County residents should be thankful he has the will to finish this.

If Atherton had a Police Chief who cared about upholding the LAW, this would have been solved 2 years ago. This falls on one man and one man only.



PS: Not that it matters but Mr. Buckheit pays $60,000 per year property taxes


Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 9:57 am

I KNEW I'd heard a story similar to Buckheit's before.

Take a look at what a citizen named Steve White encountered when he was falsely arrested when he was holding up a sign outside the Redwood Citycourthouse at the Scott Petersen trial.

Web Link

False arrest; cop who perjures himself; DA's refusal to give White his police report; resistance by the DA to his efforts to get a statement of factual innocence.

Well, well, well.


Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2011 at 10:11 am

I hope people will read all of Steve White's comments on his horrific false arrest experience.

An excerpt where he sums up what happened to him:

"So, that's my experience of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.

1. Deputy arrests me illegally.
2. Deputy lies in report to support illegal arrest.
3. Fellow deputies lie to me to prevent me getting copy of police report. Violation of state law.
4. Deputy uses phony excuses to avoid giving deposition.
5. County pays me $5,000 of your tax dollars to settle lawsuit.

Wake up, San Mateo County.

But I guess if having your Sheriff arrested in a brothel founded on white slavery is not enough to wake some people up, nothing will."


Like this comment
Posted by None
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 29, 2011 at 8:26 am

There's a story in today's Daily Post that talks about the Buckheit lawsuit.

"Small Town, Big Legal Threats", Page 4.

Sorry, the Daily Post does not post their news online.

Story lead:

"If the town of Atherton loses the legal battles it's currently fighting, it could conceivably end up costing the town more than $25 million -- nearly $10 million more than its entire budget this year..."

Further down in the story," There are currently three cases working their way through the courts, including a $10 million false arrest lawsuit.

Jon Buckheit has sued Atherton police, alleging that poor training led cops to suspect that he was at fault in a domestic violence call because he's male."

I think for copyright reasons I shouldn't be printing any more of the story here.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Three lawsuits? Buckheit's is one. What are the other two?


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Kimberly Sweidy is suing Atherton for $10 million for inadequate building inspection.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm

The 3rd law suit is (as usual), resident developer PPG. Builder of "over 100 Atherton 10,000,000 mansions" who feels that he hasn't made enough money off the town already and is now on his 3rd lawsuit against the town for refunds on fees assessed to him for repairing roads and other ware and tear to infrastructure accrued while PPG made millions of dollars in profit here.
Think MP/tree ordinances/LeMiewx/ rules are for other people, not me. Got it?


Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Those the 3 that are current. There is a strong potential of a 4th that is in the research mode right now. It is a man that the Atherton Police just can't keep their hands off. They are investigating him this moment for elder abuse. He was an editor and was recently raided by 10 Law enforcement Officers plus 1 K-9, which the Atherton Police Department have claimed they were just assisting the Probation Department.

Sure they were......


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I had forgotten about the Sweidy suit. I haven't read it, but I think it will be an uphill battle for her against the city. Building departments are pretty lawsuit proof.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

She may have a case for contributory negligence.

The inspections of her home by Atherton officials were clearly inadequate, not performed, or worst of all, performed by an unqualified, employee without the required certifications... and yet they signed off on her construction. We'll see.

If Ms. Sweidy is successful, look out for a class action suit against the town. I suspect these officials inspected A LOT of properties during their employment and these property owners have the means to fund lawsuits.


Like this comment
Posted by Legal Eagle
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

She will have case against Atherton, a persuasive one, if the builder she's also suing uses as one of his defenses that "Atherton passed inspection, so don't look at me." Based on the existence of these lawsuits, Furth should be sued for malpractice, not just fired.


Like this comment
Posted by Lurker
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2011 at 7:23 am

I don't believe that it's just the Atherton Police Department who need to be investigated. I think the citizens of Atherton have just been more vocal about the misconduct. There's no doubt in my mind that it's happening in other police departments in San Mateo.

I see that a female sheriff named Stacey Moody sued the San Mateo Sheriff's office for sexual harassment by fellow deputy Laurance Gaines.

You won't find that story anywhere in the San Mateo Daily Journal, Wagstaffe's personal house organ.

Excerpt from lawsuit Moody brought against the Sheriff's office.

Findlaw (i.e., Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). There is no dispute concerning personal jurisdiction or venue. 2. FACTUAL ISSUES: Plaintiff STACEY MOODY, a female SAN MATEO COUNTY Sheriff's Deputy, alleges she was physically assaulted by fellow Deputy Sheriff LAURANCE GAINES on July 6, 2007, while she was transferring inmates under her control to Deputy GAINES. Deputy GAINES denies that he assaulted or battered her, and asserts that they were engaged in mutual horseplay to which Deputy Moody had expressly or impliedly consented. Plaintiff alleges she was injured, although has not detailed the injuries she claims resulted from the incident, nor the damages she claims resulted from that event. After an investigation, the SAN MATEO COUNTY Sheriff terminated GAINES for his role in the incident. (GAINES grieved the termination, but the arbitration award was against him. He is studying a possible appeal.) Plaintiff also alleges she was verbally sexually harassed by Deputy Sheriff RON SALAZAR, a co-worker, and that the SAN MATEO COUNTY Sheriff's Office was aware of this situation, but did nothing about it. Deputy SALAZAR denies sexually harassing Deputy MOODY, and the COUNTY denies any knowledge of such harassment. Plaintiff first complained of the alleged harassment in late 2007.

Case 3:08-cv-01864-JL


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