Atherton: Investigator says complaints against officers 'unfounded'


For the second time in two months, an outside investigator hired by the town has declared that citizen complaints against Atherton police officers are unfounded.

John Johns, the town's former finance director who successfully sued Atherton for wrongful termination, had accused officers of evidence tampering, retaliation, and unlawful detention related to an August 2007 incident.

Mr. Johns filed the citizen's complaint in February 2010, naming two officers, and later expanded the complaint to include additional officers.

The town hired Pete Peterson, a former police chief of Clayton, California, to investigate Mr. Johns' complaint. Atherton Police Chief Mike Guerra on March 10 notified Mr. Johns of the investigation's findings: all allegations are "unfounded."

Mr. Johns has challenged several elements of the investigation, and said he will seek a new review of the alleged police misconduct. A key contention is that he named five current officers in his complaint and amendments, he said. Yet, the findings refer to only four officers.

He also said that not all of the violations he alleges were committed against him were addressed.

In an e-mail written yesterday, Mr. Johns asked Chief Guerra which officers were investigated, and informed him that he intends to file a new complaint. Mr. Johns, who told the Almanac he couldn't locate the complaint in its entirety, also asked Chief Guerra to provide a copy of the complaint to him and to the newspaper.

"I ask that you provide me this information so that I can reconcile what the Atherton Police Department perceives to have been the nature and scope of my citizen's complaint and what I actually complained about," he wrote.

Chief Guerra said yesterday (March 15) that his staff is reviewing Mr. Johns' requests and comments.

Mr. Johns' complaints stem from his detention in Town Center by officers, including then-police chief Robert Brennan, when he was on administrative leave from his town post. Mr. Johns maintains that the incident was in retaliation for his audits of the police department that cited irregularities. He was fired two months later.

Mr. Peterson also conducted the investigation into resident Jon Buckheit's complaints against the department over the alteration of a police report detailing Mr. Buckheit's 2008 arrest during a domestic violence incident.

Mr. Buckheit and other residents had protested the hiring of Mr. Peterson, and pushed instead for the appointment of an outside investigator by a judge or former judge.

Mr. Peterson concluded in January that Mr. Buckheit's complaints were "unfounded," a ruling Mr. Buckheit challenged as incomprehensible.

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Like this comment
Posted by linda
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

[This and a responding post removed; personal attacks violate terms of use.]

Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

The citizens of Atherton deserve to have these issues investigated by an impartial individual who does not have strong personal and professional links to the police profession. Peterson may well be a highly competent individual but just imagine how much better we would all feel if this report had come from someone like a retired judge.

Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm

During his two hour interview with me, Mr. Peterson confided in me that he himself had been accused of a crime.

Mr. Peterson provided little information on the nature or circumstances of the criminal complaint that had been lodged against him. However he gave me the distinct impression that the allegation was serious and that it happened while he was a uniformed officer.

I also got the distinct impression that Mr. Peterson, by making this revelation, intended to make me feel as though he understood how I felt about having been falsely accused of a crime by the Atherton Police Department in retaliation for legitimate concerns I had raised over the Department's use of public funds.

Mr. Peterson's disclosure did not reassure me however. On the contrary I became very suspicious about his ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

Regrettably my fears were realized. Mr. Peterson failed to conduct a thorough and proper investigation. Mr. Peterson investigated only four of the five officers I complained about. Additionally, several of the allegations I made in my citizen's complaint (including two of the most serious) weren't even addressed during the course of his investigation.

I will continue to call for an investigation in response to all of my allegations against all of the officers implicated.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 17, 2011 at 7:09 am

Mr Johns:

you make a strange leap in logic. Peterson may have been falsley accused of a crime so that makes him unfit to conduct an investigation? Do the false accusations made against you make you unfit to be an accountant? Isn't that part of what you are complaining about?

Don't get me wrong, I think this "investigation" is a joke with a predetermined outcome, but one possibly having been falsley accused of a crime in the past has nothing to do with the outcome. The outcome was preordained by the person that hired Peterson.

Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:28 am

Menlo Voter

When Mr. Peterson made his disclosure about having been accused of a crime he did so in a way as to indicate that he remained deeply troubled by the experience. The point I am making here is that our current conduct can be influenced by our past experience in ways that are not readily apparent, even to one's self.

To be perfectly honest, I am more inclined to believe that officers accused of misconduct are guilty of such misconduct because of my unfortunate experience with the Atherton PD. It is for that reason I would not be the best candidate to conduct an independent personnel investigation of a police officer.

The point I am trying to make is that the condition that makes me a lousy candidate for conducting an internal affairs investigation is one that affects Mr. Peterson as well. This condition is a lack of objectivity stemming from past experience.

Because Mr. Peterson clearly feels the sting of a false accusation from an aggrieved civilian, he was the poorest possible choice to conduct my investigation or Mr. Buckheit's investigation. That is unless one wanted a pre-ordained outcome in favor of the officers accused.

Like this comment
Posted by egrimley
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

...hmmmm " much better we would all feel if this report had come from someone like a retired judge." Like judge's can't be bought off.... Let's keep $hopping until we get the results we any cost....

Like this comment
Posted by APD
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:11 am

One investigation is enough, as long as it's an investigator we select. After all, when a tax paying member of the public is investigated, they get to pick their own investigator too. Oh, wait a sec, scratch that. Chief Peterson's credentials and reputation are impeccable.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:56 am

Does anybody know the name of the small town that Pete Peterson was the Chief.?

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Posted by Clayton, CA
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 10:51 am

Clayton, CA

Like this comment
Posted by sadfsf
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm

So police are being police. Is this news?

Like this comment
Posted by annoyed
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Except Atherton "officers" are not police...they are over paid security guards and news paper picker uppers...sad but true

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

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