News


Burnetts say they didn't provide alcohol

They say they patrolled party, but police say that's not good enough

William and Cynthia Burnett said in an NBC "Today Show" interview Thursday (Nov. 8) that they did not provide alcohol during a high school post-football-game party at their Menlo Park home on Friday night, Nov. 25, when Mr. Burnett, 54, was arrested on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of minors.

They also told NBC's Matt Lauer that they did not see any alcohol in their patrols of the downstairs, where teenagers were celebrating a Menlo-Atherton High School football victory.

There were chips, there was soda. There were homemade chocolate chip cookies, and homemade brownies were on the way before police arrived and broke things up, Mr. Burnett said.

The couple made the news after Menlo Park police broke up the party in the 1200 block of Woodland Avenue and arrested Mr. Burnett, a Stanford University assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the executive director of the university's Institute of Design.

Police acted after receiving an anonymous phone call complaining that underage drinking might be going on at the party.

Mr. Burnett spent the night in jail and is now out on his own recognizance, according to jail officials. The San Mateo County District Attorney has yet to announce charges, but a court date is set for Jan. 3.

Police have photos of alcohol, recordings of interviews with the teens that night, and assertions, based on police observation, that the teens were inebriated, Cmdr. Dave Bertini of the Menlo Park Police Department told the Almanac.

Police have also requested prosecution of Ms. Burnett, 48, on the same charges, Cmdr. Bertini said, but did not arrest her due to her medical condition. She is recovering from back surgery, her daughter Eliza said in an email to the Almanac. Ms. Burnett was also needed at home to look after her teenage son, Cmdr. Bertini said.

In the Today Show interview, Mr. Lauer asked Mr. Burnett if he might have been looking for trouble by hosting such a party. "Our son is a great kid," Mr. Burnett replied. "We put really clear rules in place. ... We were patrolling the party."

He had gone down twice and seen no drinking, he said. "Nobody was drinking that I know of," Mr. Burnett said. "There (was) no alcohol. ... My wife and I put really clear limits in place."

Not good enough, according to Cmdr. Bertini in a police station interview for the program. The kids can sneak the alcohol in, Cmdr. Bertini said, and there was evidence that the alcohol had come from the house. Parents need to check into who their kid's friends are and what they are bringing to the party, he said.

Mr. Burnett said that he was "certain" that the teens would check with him or his wife before going home. "For us, the big issue is to keep the kids safe," he said.

Mr. Lauer speculated that effectively patrolling such a party might require security guards. "It's a tough problem," Ms. Burnett said. "You don't want to be sitting downstairs in the middle of your kid's party. That's unreasonable."

What is needed, she added, is a community discussion that includes adults, parents, officials from law enforcement and city hall and the teens themselves.

"We need to learn how to have a dialogue to create an environment where teens can be teens," she said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by TiMO
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Good for Ms. Burnett to recognize that "teens will be teens" and strive/suggest communication to develop effective strategies to deal with and within that fact. We want responsible adults which come from responsible young adults. I support their putting "clear rules in place" and giving their kids the responsibility to abide by those. Many lessons available here.


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Posted by wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Curious why the Almanac is insistent on changing Benjamin's last name to Burnett?

Also curious: my high school students have informed me that some of their classmates regularly attend school inebriated or stoned. The teachers are probably not supplying the alcohol or drugs, but shouldn't they be subject to arrest? That is, if you're going to apply the law equitably.


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Posted by ????
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:04 am

I have to wonder if the officers involved in here weren't recently returned from an Oakland mutual aid assist, meant to deal with the Occupy Movement and they simple took out their frustrations on the party attendees instead.
All amped up and no place to go?
It happens.


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Posted by Joe M.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:17 am

Here's a link to the interview video:

Web Link

Terrible judgment by police, smug Menlo Park police commander Bertini striding down a hallway, and Officer Soares with his tattoo of satan banishing someone to hell (on a forearm likely larger than some of the torsos involved) added up to a really stupid decision. The problem is, once the police do something, right or wrong, it's at a point of no return for them. They will back up their officers as part of the blue code of silence and support.


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Posted by Thevoice
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 9, 2011 at 5:56 am

All of the above comments are useless. Fact is adults are allowing other peoples kids to drink. As a parent I'm sure I would be very upset. Joe M I find it hard to believe that Soares would have satan on his arm. Im sure the officers were amped up after Oakland lol

The parents are going to look really stupid in court. Wait until the party attendees testify. That will be interesting.

The Almanac used to be a newspaper that was much more balanced. Their reporting is sloppy and inaccurate. This site is nothing more than a blog where rumor and speculation is tolerated.

Rhetorically the parents are deflecting and repackaging their message in the interview. I surmise the house of cards will topple once evidence is presented. They are the smug ones. They created this controversy. good luck to them.


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Posted by Joe M.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 7:01 am

Problem with your theory is, Thevoice, the cops' buddy, DA Steve Wagstaffe, has not filed criminal charges at this late hour. Why not?

Haven't you figured out yet Wagstaffe won't file charges since he can't support them. He's waiting for close to Christmas to announce this so as not to humiliate the cops involved, trying to make it look like some sort of holiday gift to Burnett to show mercy.


Like this comment
Posted by chad
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 9:08 am

Teaching right and wrong starts with PARENTS. Burnett, this is your fault soley for your lack of oversight. There needs to be no community pow-wow to deal with things that you should have as a parent. Have fun in the legal system, guy.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Chad -
Sounds from the interview with the parents that they did raise a good son who knew right from wrong and that they were providing about as good oversight as possible by hosting the party in their own house. After all, most of the worst drinking occurs in parties the kids throw themselves off in the woods, behind the school, etc. (or in my case when I was that age - at the local gravel quarry). This is where vast quantities get consumed because there are no constraints provided by adults and where the kids get back in their cars, drunk, to drive home. Which is the scenario we want to encourage?
The clear lesson from this episode is for parents to play it cautious by never hosting a party for their kids lest some nosy neighbor calls the cops and turns an enjoyable party into a trip to the local jail and arrest records for those involved.
BTW Chad - are we to believe that you never consumed an adult beverage before your 21st birthday?


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Posted by Scholar
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Let's say some of the kids brought in some booze, hiding it from the host parents, and all the underage drinkers at the party pretended to be sober when the host parents visited the party. Not too hard to imagine, right?

If that makes the host parent liable (under a law) then arresting the parent was OK if the cops had the evidence.

Who ratted them out anonymously? Some kid who was worried or had a grudge?







Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Hey Voice -
You wrote: "Fact is adults are allowing other peoples kids to drink."
Are you making this up? It sure doesn't sound like you watched the video clip.
According to Mr. Burnett's own statements, 1) he had clear rules about not drinking in his house, 2)he didn't see kids bringing alcohol into the house and 3) he didn't see kids drinking alcohol when he went downstairs to check on them and serve cookies. Where in these facts (as best we can know the facts from this distance) do you conclude that Mr. Burnett was allowing other people's kids to drink?
The police may have evidence to support their charges but for the moment I think we have to rely on that increasingly odd but still relevant precept: "innocent until proven guilty".


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Posted by Police the Police
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Next time the Menlo Park school district asks for money, you'll know that the city council had to redirect funds to pay for the settlement and pay out that will ultimately be needed to compensate for an over reaching police department.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Yes Scholar, the kid with the grudge brought a few open containers and hid them in the bushes. That's the one who made the anonymous call.

If you could believe it, I knew a teenager who stole some beer from someone's refrigerator at a party. So which parents should you arrest, the theif's, or the owner of the refrigerator (and the beer). When the teenage thief walks to the local park with that beer bottle, who gets arrested then?

I bet there's some balance in common sense, in the law. Thank you, Menlo Park police for responding. Thank you, Burnett's for hosting the party and doing your best to monitor teenage kids. No promises that the police didn't over-react. No promises that the Burnett's couldn't monitor every kid at every moment. That said, it sounded like everyone (police & parents) made best effort. We'll may know more as facts come out (if they do). Until then, I begin with goodwill for both police & parents.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm

If the Burnett's said no alcohol & didn't see any, how about MP PD arrest the parents of the kids who brought alcohol into the Burnett home & consumed it there, in secret?


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm

For some perspective on the legal drinking age in European countries (this applies to beer & wine - some countries raise the age by 2 years for spirits):

Austria 16
Belgium 16
Czech Rep. 18
Finland 18
France 18
Germany 16
Greece 18
Iceland 20
Ireland 18
Italy 16
Netherlands 16
Russia 18
Sweden 18
Switzerland 16
Turkey 18 (a Muslim Country!)
UK 18

Is it possible that our Puritan heritage is getting in the way of making rational laws?
Didn't we learn our lesson from Prohibition?
Do we improve our society by making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens?


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Steve:

when I went to Europe in teh early 70's there were no restrictions on drinking age. Now there are. Think maybe there's a reason?


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm

MV -
Alcohol isn't good for developing brains is one reason. Being old enough to be responsible is another.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not against imposing a minimum legal drinking age. I just think it should be realistic and the European ages seem more realistic than the US MLDA of 21.
I found the following arguments on-line that make sense to me:
1) When adolescents are not taught to drink in moderation, they end up binge drinking when they do consume alcohol. It is better to teach youth to learn how to drink responsibly and hold them accountable for their actions as we do with driving.
2) Lowering the drinking age will make alcohol less of a taboo, take away the thrill that many young people get from breaking the law, and make alcohol consumption a more normalized activity done in moderation.
3)National alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933 failed, which shows that strict regulation of drinking is counterproductive, unenforceable, and can lead to an increase in illegal and underground activities.
4) Enforcing an MLDA of 21 is expensive and inefficient. Drinking is still a major problem among teens. It would be more effective to spend money on educating youth about alcohol than to spend it on enforcement of drinking laws for 18 to 20 year olds.


Like this comment
Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Steve, My guess is that most of the kids were 16 or 17. Juniors and seniors in high school. You made an interesting callout on Turkey. This must mean that every Turkish citizen is Muslim. You forgot to mention the UK (Puritans)and Italians (mafioso booze-runners)Russia (communists) and the Swiss (neutral). Did I miss any? Texas?


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Posted by worried
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

As a parent of two pre-teens, this whole thing scares me. Am I expected to pad lock my wine for fear of getting arrested when my kids have friends over?

Am I expected to search the kids coming over? Oh wait, I would get arrested for that too. Sounds like a no win situation if you ask me.

Whatever teen brought the alcohol in, should be the one in trouble.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm

It's not Satan banishing anyone in the tattoo, it's Satan being banished to hell by St. Michael.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Central Menlo -
I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at.
I pointed out that even Turkey, which has a 98% Muslim population, has a more rational drinking age than the US, even though Islam bans all consumption of alcohol.
What do Puritans, Mafioso, and communists have to do with the argument?


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Worried -
You've really captured the main problem that this episode poses. Probably this is the reason the Today Show wanted to run the story - it's a dilemma parents across the country face in trying to teach their children (and their children's friends) to drink responsibly. If we can't do it in our own homes, we push the problem out into much less controlled, much less safe environments.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm

This story is so sad. If the Burnetts are telling the truth, it's really hard to see what they could have done differently that would have helped anyone. The police officer's words--"Parents need to check into who their kid's friends are and what they are bringing to the party"--are SO out of touch. Should the Burnetts have body-searched the kids? And, how exactly should they have "checked into who their kid's friends are"? This is the kind of statement that sounds really great on paper and has absolutely no teeth in real life, especially with high school seniors. Unless the Burnetts are lying, it sounds like they did a decent job of balancing oversight and trust. The alternatives would have been even worse. No, we don't want to strive to be our kids' best friends (rather than their parents), but we also don't want to create a virtual police state in our homes and an environment completely devoid of trust for our teenagers.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I think the "clear lesson" is that when a parent is supposed to be monitoring their kid's party, that they need to actually MONITOR the party.

Watching tv in your bedroom and looking in a couple of times isn't monitoring. Would you accept this level of "monitoring" from a babysitter?


Like this comment
Posted by rational
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm

"Watching tv in your bedroom and looking in a couple of times isn't monitoring. Would you accept this level of "monitoring" from a babysitter?"

Probably, if the "baby" is 20 years old.


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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Steve, I like the points you raised. I was commenting only in calling out Turkey for the religious practice of their majority population (and not calling out that, of other countries). Texas would be a good example. there are a lot of dry cities in TX (many conservative Christians don't drink either)

I'm not sure I get Pogo's point, though. Pogo, exactly what level of monitoring is the right level of monitoring. Maybe party parents can hire off-duty police. I bet they're better at catching surreptitious teen drinkers than parents. Right?


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Rational's point gets to the gray area of this situation. The law is the law, but life is more complicated than that. As Ms. Burnett said, teens need to be teens. What more needs to be said on that point?

Well intentioned, intelligent, caring people, like the Burnetts appear to be, should not be hung out to dry by a squad of police seemingly attuned to a black-and-white world. The need here is to enlighten police about gray areas, not the Burnetts and parents in similar situations about the black-and-white world of the law.


Like this comment
Posted by non drinker
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Chad, [portion deleted]. There is no right or wrong in drinking. It's purely legal or ilegal.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm

While there seems to be some consensus that parents should have the option of allowing their underage children to drink at home under THEIR parents supervision, it also seems that there is almost zero support for allowing underage individuals to consume alcohol under the supervision of someone who is not their parent and certainly not without the formal consent of that underage person's parents. It is dangerous to convolute these two different issues.


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Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 10, 2011 at 7:26 am

pogo is a registered user.

rational responded to my question: "Would you accept this (minimal) level of "monitoring" from a babysitter?" with "Probably, if the "baby" is 20 years old."

rational, if your 20 year old is still in high school, perhaps they should be attending fewer parties with 15, 16 and 17 year olds (the age of high school students) and be studying a little more. If they did that, perhaps they would be contemplating their college graduation instead of high school.

The bigger issue here is the level of parental supervision. This isn't a theoretical discussion for me - I have kids that are this age group. We not only host parties, we allow our kids to attend parties at their friends' homes.

As parents, we have a responsibility - not only to our children - but to the children attending our parties and to their parents to make sure that we are providing a safe place for them. I've heard the kids talking about which parents are inattentive and the homes where they know they can get away with drinking and doing other things they know they shouldn't be doing. They know full well that at our home, they can expect a parent to check in on parties, to secure our own alcohol (which is easy - we don't have a lot), bring in the food, and, heaven forbid, even engage and chat with some of kids during the course of the party.

It's called "parenting."


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Posted by juris
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm

juris is a registered user.

The hosts portray themselves as innocents having taken every reasonable step to monitor the activities of 40+ minors in their home. The visual of cooking and delivering brownies does warm one’s heart. Their interviews give rise to many additional questions, including:

Did they provide the proper level of supervision?
Is there a need to more closely watch 40+ than 2-3 or even 5-10?
What was the ratio of adults to minors?
Did the hosts know every one of the teens and, therefore, have a basis to trust each of them?
Given the numbers and ratios, was it reasonable to monitor randomly and occasionally?

Also intriguing is his statement that they knew each of the attendees would “check in” with them before leaving. Such validation would seem unnecessary in an environment with only sodas, chips, cookies, and warm brownies being served.

What made them take this measure?
Did they employ some mechanism to control such a "check" prior to departure?
Was this step out of an abundance of caution or to mitigate a risk?

They are, of course, innocent until proven guilty. The DA has yet to file and may well decline prosecution for difficulties in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or lack of jury appeal. The Today Show’s celebrity attorney observed the couple appears to have committed the crime alleged.

I'm not sure giving such free ranging interviews was a wise choice. His statements may be used against him. Interesting legal strategy to speak publicly before adjudication.


Like this comment
Posted by Lisa Frederiksen
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Lisa Frederiksen is a registered user.

What to do about teen parties is a huge concern for all of the reasons stated. While the following two concepts do not relate specifically to teen parties, they do shed light on the teen brain. At BreakingTheCycles.com, we've found that using these concepts in conversations with children, teens and amongst parents can help: 1) 21st century brain research that explains why the teen brain is not the same as that of an adult's and therefore why the teen brain is affected differently by binge drinking (or drugs) than the brain of an adult’s, and 2) how the body processes alcohol, which is why it has such an impact on the brain. With regards to #1, this article, “How Teens Become Alcoholics Before Age 21,” Web Link, helps to explain this relatively new brain research and why alcohol is harmful to the teen brain in a way it is not necessarily harmful to the adult brain. With regards to #2, this article, “Why BAC Can Keep Rising After a Person Stops Drinking,” Web Link , helps explain alcohol’s impact on the brain and a person’s decision-making capabilities.


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Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Good post, Lisa.

I don't think the issue is that teens will do stupid things or drink too much. Yes, the teenage brain is different.

The issue here is that this incident took place right under the noses of the parents who were supposed to be supervising the party. Personally, I think the parents were asleep at the wheel. I fault the parents, not the kids.

How tragic if one of these kids ended up killing someone because they drove home drunk.


Like this comment
Posted by Lisa Frederiksen
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 8:44 am

Lisa Frederiksen is a registered user.

I just wanted to add to the discussion about Europeans having underage drinking more figured out than we do -- something I'd long understood and believed, myself: 1) the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2007 Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking, Web Link, shares research findings (on page 9 of the Call) showing all but 1 of the 19 European countries surveyed having more students ages 15-16 than the U.S. who have engaged in binge drinking (5+drinks) within the past 30 days, and 2) article sharing NPR program, "French Lessons: Why Letting Kids Drink at Home Isn't Tres Bien," Web Link. I share this (and the prior information) to add to the overall discussion of underage drinking.


Like this comment
Posted by believer in science
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Dec 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm

believer in science is a registered user.

Thank you to Lisa Frederiksen for contributing thoughtful and educational comments to this discussion. This is an issue of fact based science and unfortunately is clouded by medievel thinking and tradtions futher inflamed by people who feel entitled to deciding which laws they can ignore. I imagine the 44 students involved in this case have never heard about the impact on their health given that it's been claimed on this website that most parents knew they were at the party and also by the fact that the Burnetts took away the teen's car keys. Too bad none of these parents had the guts or intelligence to teach their kids to be smart and have strong self esteem.

The below quote came from this website:

"Posted by teen, a member of the Menlo-Atherton High School community, on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm
teen is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

As a teen at the party I would just like to state that everything was exaggerated not ALL 44 teens were drunk like it said on the cover of the Daily Post. Also the majority of our parents knew where we were that night. Mr. Burnett and his wife took away the keys of all the kids who drove there. Yes we are all under the age of 21 but we were drinking responsibly and the majority of us are seniors who are going to college next year so we were experiencing what will obviously be done in college in a safe way."

Can the Almanac try to find out why the Burnetts took the car keys of all teens if alcohol wasn't being consumed?

Thanks to the Almanac for attempting to enlighten our community.


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

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