Almanac

News - December 14, 2011

Burnetts say they didn't provide alcohol at party

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

by Dave Boyce

William and Cynthia Burnett said in an NBC "Today Show" interview 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.

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