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Police officer sues town, public works supervisor over assault, harassment claims

Original post made on Jun 2, 2009

Atherton's public works supervisor, who's been with the town for 33 years, is facing a criminal trial on misdemeanor charges of assault and battery on an Atherton police officer. He's also named in a civil lawsuit the officer filed.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 3, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (17)

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Posted by bob murray
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Gruber is toast. It is time to start a search for a new city manager.

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Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 2, 2009 at 11:09 pm

I have a couple of net takeaways and questions from this well-written article:

Question: Is Mr. Henderson being prosecuted for assault, or the more serious charge of assaulting a police officer?


1. I am morbidly curious to see what Atherton's response to this lawsuit will be. On the face of it, it seems truly incredible that they have let the situation degenerate to this point.

2. Mr. Gruber had a harassment complaint made against him at his former town manager position at Big Bear Lake. He was suspended and during that suspension quit to take the Atherton job. This was reported at the time by the Almanac, so I'm not quite sure why comments that discuss it now are getting deleted.

At the time, the Almanac reported Mr. Gruber's own retort to this charge: “I think the (Atherton) council feels really comfortable that it was a whole lot about nothing,” he said. “My recommendations are impeccable. I come highly recommended, and I think the (Big Bear Lake) community is really going to miss (my wife) Melanie and I [sic].”

At the time I thought that perhaps Atherton was taking a bit of a chance given its history of enormous legal and staff turmoil. My own predilection, had I been on the council, would have been to err on the side of hiring someone -- even if it involved paying a premium salary (yes, he's paid well under the Menlo Park manager) -- with an absolutely sterling record, because given Atherton's particular problems, that would actually save money in the long run even with the higher salary.

3. For the record -- I am NOT John Johns. I have read his postings here (at least before they get deleted), as well as the Almanac's stories about him. If his behavior warranted being fired for creating a hostile work environment, what the heck has Mr. Henderson done?

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Posted by Bill Avery
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:18 am

Glenn Nielsen is toast. It is time to search for a new police chief.

Perhaps this time they will look beyond the confines of Atherton.

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Posted by muckraker
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:50 am

According to a redacted copy of the Topliff report (available at on the Almanac News site at the following link

Web Link )

Johns complained to Wende Protzman about an instance of possible sexual harassment.

The individual who was the subject of the allegation suggested Mr. Johns had issues with him because of his size and because of his race. (See Page 11)

Ms. Topliff concluded that Mr. Johns did not find what she referred to as any "overt" racial issue at play but did find fault with Mr. Johns for raising the issue.

It would seem to me that if the subject of Mr. Johns sexual harassment complaint and the subject of Pilar Ortiz Buckley's sexual harassment complaint are one and the same, the Town is going to have hell to pay.

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Posted by DonD
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm

[Post removed]

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Posted by Sugar Ray
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm

[Post removed]

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Posted by unreal
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:04 pm

How many false disability actions does the town have to go through to learn from it...remember the female dispatcher who was convicted of felony workmen's comp fraud? How much did that cost the town? How many lawsuits does the town have to endure and lose before they learn? Remember all the lawsuits former chief cader brought about? How much did all those cost the taxpayers? Now this? Stop this madness...get the Sheriff in here to take over services. Remember the police officer who STOLE a residents golf clubs? Now there is yet another one being investigated for a potential felony. Ask and you will not get any answers as it is being covered up by the administration. Enough of this! This is an unprofessional agency run by an unprofessional administration from the City Manager down to the Chief of Police!

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Posted by Ivana Massage
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Yes, thank goodness the Sheriff's office is free from the taint of scandal.

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Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Of course it's not, Ivana, but it's way better than Atherton. Just look at the lawsuits.

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Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 3, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Someone explain something to me. This isn't the first or even the second time that Henderson was reported for sexual harassment, and yet he still works there? Huh?

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Posted by Explanation
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm

That question by Unbelievable is probably the most interesting aspect of this story.

I am as much against "political correctness" as anyone, and am opposed to men being charged with sexual harassment for asking a woman out on a date, etc. If Atherton were opposing Ms. Ortiz' suit on these types of principles, I would be the first to stand behind Mr. Gruber and support him. However, between the video tape, restraining order, and criminal prosecution, this seems really far removed from those types of situations.

One thought that occurred to me (and apparently someone else on this board) is that Atherton feels Ms. Ortiz is attempting to game the system with her disability claim. Then again, even if that were true, how would that excuse Mr. Henderson's conduct?

Another thought is perhaps Mr. Gruber's alleged comment about Mr. Henderson being over 50 and African American is part of a lesser of two evils decision made by him that either way Atherton was going to get sued over this, and he chose the suit by the African American man as being more dangerous than the one by the Hispanic woman. Hmmm. I think the tape and criminal prosecution trump that notion no matter how you think that particular rock and hard place would unfold.

The more logical (and disturbing) explanation is that, yet again, Atherton is deciding to advance a policy of denying any wrongdoing, irrespective of the facts. I believe the city attorneys are only too glad to advocate this type of strategy, as it leads to increased billable hours for them. John F. Kennedy said "An error doesn't become a mistake until you fail to correct it." Mr. Gruber would do well to study this quote. But then again, he's not paying for these suits. Nor are the council members who approve them (by denying the liability claims). It can all get blamed on the previous city attorney, city manager and police chief, can't it?

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Posted by Disbelief
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I believe someone is innocent until proven guilty. However, an employee with a history of "worker's comp injuries" loses credibiity. If this is a criminal act, why the lawsuit? Sounds like she wants some $$$$$$

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Posted by Quentin McHale
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Don't tar (or toast) Chief Glenn Nielsen with this muck. This is one guy who is really working hard to provide the services that Atherton needs and eliminate the extaneous noise we don't need. This guy is the best chief Atherton has had in 25 years.

Sheriff's Dept? A fine crew of officers, but wouldn't provide the level of service we've come to rely on in Atherton.

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Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

No doubt about it, but criminal proceedings and civil proceedings are not mutually exclusive. If a drunk driver, heaven forbid, maims you, s/he would be criminally prosecuted for drunk driving, but you would also most likely be seeking monetary restitution via civil litigation from the insurance company for the loss of your income, lifestyle, etc. "Explanation" has it right. Even if Ofc. Ortiz is "gaming the system", how can that excuse the alleged conduct of Mr. Henderson? Why would the Town of Atherton management not act decisively to cut off the damages that I'm sure will flow from this? It's either incompetence or misconduct.

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Posted by ru kidding
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:52 pm

There have been multiple [portion removed] complaints filed against Troy [portion removed] This time there is a video as per the District Attorney. The claim also states that the Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson asked to have the tape destroyed. This is a true statement as was witnessed by other Police personnel. So who should we believe? [portion removed] Jury trial is June 22nd. Instead of wondering or speculating, why not go to the trial and see for yourself who the real Liars are.

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Posted by muckraker
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 4, 2009 at 7:58 am

[Post removed; comment identical to earlier post]

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Posted by sage
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:37 am

Here is some free advice to Mayor Carlson and his colleagues on the Council:

Fire the City Manager
Fire the Assistant City Manager
Fire the Chief of Police
Fire the Public Works Director
Fire the Public Works Supervisor
Make Buckley a detective
Issue an apology to Buckley

In short use the current crisis to clean house.

Will the Council take this advice? If past experience is indicative of future behavior the answer is a resounding no. But one can always hope for a change of heart and some clear thinking.

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

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