Another whitewash by "Mr. Clean"? Atherton, posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2011 at 11:35 am
The following is a text of a letter I received from Atherton Police Chief Mike Guerra in response to my citizen's complaint of evidence tampering, false arrest, falsification of a police report and retaliation.
The investigation makes reference to complaints against four employees of the Atherton Police Department. (I have complained of misconduct by five officers actually).
I invite your comments.
Dear Mr. Johns:
Personnel investigation 2010-002 that involved allegations of misconduct by four employees has been completed. The findings were the same for each of the four employees, which are listed below:
Allegation #1: 1043.2.4 Obedience to Unjust or Improper Orders, Subsection (g):
Members who are given orders they feel to be unjust or contrary to the rules and regulations must first obey the order to the best of their ability and then proceed to appeal through the chain of command.
Finding- Unfounded - The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.
Allegation #2: 1043.24 Honesty in the Performance of Duty, Subsection (I):
No member shall falsify any report, official record or official communication (oral, written, electronic) [118.1 PC].
Finding- Unfounded - The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.
1. All members must conduct themselves impartially toward all persons coming to the attention of the Department. 3. Exhibiting partiality for or against a person because of sex, race, creed, national origin, or influence is conduct unbecoming an officer.
Finding- Unfounded - The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.
Allegation #4: 1043.32 Enforcement Activities; Reports and Bookings, Subsection (g):
No person shall knowingly falsify any official report.
Finding- Unfounded - The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm
I would like to focus attention on this topic to some very objective issues.
California has a "Peace Officer's Bill of Rights" that makes almost everything about a citizen's complaint against a police officer entirely confidential and not subject to public scrutiny. Other states allow public hearings in police officer misconduct complaints, and additional public visibility into the process and associated documents. In California, even the complainant only has a right to know the result of the complaint and not how the result is justified. Some jurisdictions with police review boards (e.g., Berkeley, San Francisco) have tried to open their hearings to the public and were met with lawsuits by police unions to shut that down, which succeeded.
California actually has what is the most restrictive (in terms of public access) police officer complaint process in the United States. Although normally thought of as a "blue state," and public visibility into law enforcement as perhaps advocacy normally associated with people of a liberal mindset, California does have a notably strong police union.
What California law does provide for is the number of complaints made, and the number of complaints sustained vs. exonerated, to be published. In this way, citizens might take some comfort that police departments (which are permitted to be self-governing in how they process complaints, at least in the absence of a citizen's review board), do take the complaint process seriously (i.e., the presence of sustained complaints, in adequate number, can be used to argue that the police department will take action against an officer when justified).
The statewide statistics for 1981-2006 are published here:
The Atherton Police Department has sustained zero police complaints in the last six years. This is well below the statewide averages published in the link above.
There are mathematical procedures that can be applied to this data to answer the question: is Atherton's treatment of police complaints significantly different than the state-wide averages.
For example, in Las Vegas, you can play roulette. There is an 18/38 chance of winning on each spin of the wheel if you bet on red (18 black, 18 red, 2 zeros). If you made 1,000 bets, you would expect about 474 to be winning bets. Of course, if you won 470 times, or even 400 times, that would be in-line with expectations, and the difference between the actual and expected values explained by normal random variation. If you made 1,000 bets and won only ten times, you might reasonably conclude the game was "rigged."
What the mathematics show for Atherton police complaint statistics is that the number of sustained complaints in Atherton (zero) is significantly less than what should be expected from the state-wide average. The difference cannot be explained by random variation. (As a side note, unlike some statistical tests that approximate random distributions to a bell-shaped curve, and rely on large numbers of samples to make these approximations, the mathematics for this particular situation is exact and does not need to rely on any approximations).
So, it is a mathematical fact that the Atherton police complaint procedure results in far fewer sustained complaints than would be expected by the state-wide averages. What is subjective would be the assumption that Atherton police complaints should be in-line with state-wide averages. The significant difference, depending on your point of view, could be explained by:
- Atherton hires better officers than the California state-wide averages.
- Atherton has more unwarranted complaints than the California state-wide averages.
- Atherton's police department is unwilling (compared to state-wide averages) to hold its officers accountable for misconduct.
As a separate note, the actual number of complaints made in Atherton (normalized for the number of officers) is well above the state-wide average (normalized for the number of officers state-wide), and this difference cannot be explained by random variation either; that is, it is significant.
I think this is an issue that is worthy of polite and substantial discussion.
Posted by Lurker, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm
Jon Buckheit said, "the actual number of complaints made in Atherton (normalized for the number of officers) is well above the state-wide average (normalized for the number of officers state-wide), and this difference cannot be explained by random variation either; that is, it is significant."
What about the number of complaints against police officers in other towns in San Mateo County? How do they measure up against the state-wide average? How many complaints have other departments in the county sustained in the last six years?
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm
Atherton and the San Mateo District Attorney should take a lesson from George Gascon, former SFPD Chief and current SF D.A. He's ASKED the FBI to conduct an investigation of alleged misconduct of some SFPD officers. When the investigation is done, even if there is a finding of no wrong doing, no one is going to be able to say it was a whitewash. The longer Guerra and the DA continue to stonewall, the louder the voices of discontent will become. When that happens the FBI will be involved in serious investigations of wrong doing (if they're not already) and Guerra and Wagstaffe are going to be hung out to dry.
Posted by Lurker, a resident of another community, on Mar 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm
If Wagstaffe were in Gascon's shoes, he would be stonewalling and covering for the police.
And if it were Gascon who was being investigated by the FBI, I would think that -unlike Wagstaffe- he would have handled the news with professionalism and would have not dismissed it as a "fabrication."
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm
Lurker - I do not have the statistics on San Mateo County, but would be interested in them. Please be aware, however, that in statistical analysis, one can restrict the population to be compared to in order to achieve a particular result in mind. (For example, compare one person or agency to a close, neighboring one to come up with the result that "everything's normal" when in fact they both show significant deviations from the state-wide averages). Whether Atherton should be compared to other departments in San Mateo County, the Bay Area, or the State of California, is more of a policy question.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm
Mr. Buckheit's use of statistics to question the lack of sustained police complaints in Atherton is reminiscent of others both in and out of a courtroom that have relied on empirical data to try and support their position. While empirical data is quite regularly used to interpret data that is advantageous to one's position, I am reminded of the quotation that "there are three types of lies... lies, dam*ed lies and statistics". There are many other variables involved.
Atherton's demographics play a much bigger part in explaining any disparity with regards to other cities in California. Atherton is an entirely residential city with no commercial district, about 7,000 residents and only around 250 police involved incidents per year. This is not to say that there might have been police misconduct in Mr. Buckheit's case just that empirical data is not a sound method in making any judgment that the Atherton Police Department has been recalcitrant in their complaints of police misconduct.
With regards to Menlo Voter's admiration of D.A. Gascon in asking for outside assistance in investigating alleged misconduct by the SFPD, it should be pointed out that the alleged malfeasance occurred under his tenure as chief of police. If any civil suits against the city arose out of his investigation, he could possibly find himself in a rather untenable position given he is now the city's D.A. and his dept. was solely responsible for the investigation. His actions, in my opinion, were not out of any concern for transparency in the investigation but a desire to distance himself and his department from any unfavorable outcome. A totally different set of circumstances from Chief Guerra and D.A. Wagstaffe.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm
regardless of Gascon's motives for involving the FBI, he is obviously quite smart and adept. Something neither Guerra nor Wagstaffe appear to be. No matter the outcome, no one can argue that the investigation was a "whitewash" with the FBI involved. If Guerra wasn't TRULY worried about an unbiased investigation of his little cesspool, he would ask the FBI to come in and investigate, yet he doesn't. In fact he sits on his hands for over a year and then brings in a a "fixer" to conduct an obviously biased "investigation."
Posted by Phony Baloney, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm
Thomas tries to pass himself off as erudite. The results of his efforts are counterproductive. He dismisses Dr. Buckheit, who has a PHD in Math, with his own phony statistics.
Either Thomas didn't read Dr. Buckheit's post very closely or he lacked the intellectual capacity to understand the point Dr. Buckheit was making.
Dr. Buckheit did not rely upon statistical methods to make inferences about the behavior of Atherton residents or of the Atherton cops. Dr. Buckheit presented facts and figures and posed various hypotheses as to what these characteristics of the population of officers, complaints and resolutions thereof meant.
It is time for people like Thomas who are reflexively defensive about the behavior of corrupt cops to see the truth for what it is.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm
[Portion removed] Menlo Voter...you missed the point. D.A. Gascon would never had asked for outside assistance in this matter had he not been the former chief of police so I have to disagree with your opinion that his motives are irrelevant. His motives, in my opinion, are self-serving.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm
Thomas points out: "Atherton is an entirely residential city with no commercial district, about 7,000 residents and only around 250 police involved incidents per year."
I would be interested in understanding (seriously, no sarcasm involved) how that demographic information implies that when a complaint about police conduct is made in Atherton, it is less likely to be a legitimate complaint than elsewhere in California, which is the question my original post considered. My own intuition suggests that in cities with more crime than Atherton, complaints are more likely to be unfounded (operating under the theory that actual criminals would complain about the conduct of police officers as a way of taking attention away from their own criminal conduct in court proceedings), but I am open to being educated.
Posted by chain smoker, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 11:02 pm
I'm sure Mr. Buckheit's post constitutes a good faith effort to reason with the poster by the name of Thomas. Unfortunately this poster and others suffer from ignorance or are in a state of denial. Neither of these conditions are amenable to logic. A more appropriate reaction is pity.
Posted by Threats R Us, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2011 at 11:16 pm
Whoa, that post by "Mark Du" seems like a thickly veiled threat against Mr. Buckheit.
It looks like some Atherton cops don't like the numbers he's been crunching. Not that it matters... The numbers also show very convincingly that Atherton has no business having its own police department but that hasn't stopped the Atherton police officer's association from making sure that issue doesn't receive an honest debate.
Check out the Atherton police officer's association YouTube channel. They have filmed the financial committee meetings and have posted them to YouTube. When did this group go from holding potato sack races to being a political action committee???
Posted by Carol Parker, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 14, 2011 at 11:34 am
I have a question. If Mr. Johns was cited and given a ticket by a police officer, and if that event is recorded in the police log, how can it be that someone could say "The investigation conclusively proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur. "
I mean, I could understand a finding that the event occurred but no violation occurred, or whatever, but how can someone erase the actual event?
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Mar 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm
With respect to Carol Parker's question. I was indeed detained on the morning of August 29, 2007. I was detained without probable cause and given a citation for driving without a license, even though I wasn't driving.
To justify my illegal detention, a police report was written after the fact accusing me of trespassing and intimidation of a witness.
Two police reports were falsified to create the impression that a single officer was involved in my detention and to conceal the fact that my illegal detention and the raid on my office were acts of retaliation in response to improper spending by the Police Department.
The following is the text of a letter I sent to Chief Guerra. As indicated in the note, it is clear that the scope of the investigation was unresponsive and in at least one instance completely unrelated to my citizen's complaint. Additionally my complaint involved five, not four officers of the Atherton Police Department:
Dear Chief Guerra
I am in receipt of your certified letter dated March 10, 2011. (See attached)
This letter does not appear to be responsive to my citizen's complaint. Specifically your letter omits any reference or response to following allegations that I made very clear were within the scope of my citizen's complaint:
Additionally, your letter states that Mr. Peterson's investigation "conclusively proved the act or acts complained of did not occur". In making this revelation, you attribute a feat to Mr. Peterson which is which has long been regarded by many as utterly impossible, that being to prove the negative.
Your letter also responds to at least one allegation that I did not make, to wit : Allegation number 1, Obedience to unjust or improper orders.
In view of the dubious representations you have made in your March 10, 2011 and the failure of your letter to address the most significant aspects of my citizen's complaint, I respectfully request that I be provided access to Mr. Peterson's report and the supporting documentation thereto. Please advise me as to when I will be able to review said materials.
Finally, I have asked for a copy of the interview recording that Mr. Peterson made of our two hour interview or a copy of the transcript of said interview. I agreed to my recording of this interview with the understanding that I would be provided a copy of said interview recording or of a transcript thereof. To date my request has not been honored. Please advise me when my request will be honored.
Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community, on Mar 14, 2011 at 3:22 pm
John Johns was ordered by Chief Robert Brennan to get in his car and start his car.
Chief Robert Brennan admitted accessing the criminal computer system..R.E.A.C.T. Force to do what he called a routine background check on the Director of Finance of the Town of Atherton. This admitted act is illegal by the way, unless you hire Pete Peterson to explain it.
What he discovered on this computer was that Mr. Johns drivers license had expired the day before or close to it. ....Inside information
Posted by laughing, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm
This is comical!!! So what kind of "legitimate" complaint will be sustained when the police do NOTHING. They pick up newspapers for people who are out of town. They arrest drunk drivers in other jurisdictions in which they have NO business...in case you have not noticed...there are no businesses and no bars or restaurants of any kind in little tiny Atherton. Sure one might trickle through now and then but please!! You cannot compare complaint statistics with real police agencies that deal with real bad guys and real crime. The occasional fight at Menlo Atherton High School and the occassional break-in does not constitute "crime". What a joke this agency is, always has been and always will be. Time to just let the Sheriff come in and save the tax payers a lot of money and headaches. This is embarrassing.
Posted by bob, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm
I am trying to figure out how someone who starts up his car , is given a citation for driving without a license. There has to be more to it than that. It seems interesting that Johns and Buckheit always seem to have police showing up for no good reason, at least that is their side of it. . The APD seems to be at fault and so do the individuals. Both sides look dirty.
Posted by Melinda Tevis, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm
On the off chance that you actually are looking into the affairs of either San Mateo County or the APD, the following information may or may not be useful to you. While I was interviewed by two different Grand Jury panels (06 and 07O, with questions about the Building Department Audit and various City Council members, I don't remember any questions from the Jury members (or any of the three other private investigators that the Towns had hired on its own), on the subject of the events surrounding Mr. John's detainment by the APD.
So, While you would have to ask Mr. Johns for exact dates and other specifics, here is what I do distinctly remember from that day of his detainment.
Per usual, at lunch time or late morning while reading the papers, I glanced at the Police Log listings in one of the three local papers that cover Atherton, which are generally from at least one day prior to the paper's publication.
That day I noticed an Atherton log entry about a break in and possible theft of computer equipment at the Finance Director's office in one of the cubicles at the back of the Administration Building. To be honest my first thought was "what have Lois and Charles cooked up this time to try to discredit John".
Mr. Johns was a long time lane mate of mine from the local masters swim program--we had been team mates for at least three years. I can't remember for sure if John was already on administrative leave or not- but I think so, anyway I called his cell phone to ask him what the heck had had happened and got him at his home in Palo Alto. Initially he thought I was joking--then when he slowly realized I was serious and was reading directly from the newspaper, he seemed absolutely stupefied that this could possibly be true without his having been notified by his boss, then City Manager Jim Robinson (I don't think Jim had retired in disgust quite yet--but it could well have been Wende Prostman running the show). I suggested to John that this was all more than just a bit fishy and that he had better find out what was up. End of phone call. I guess I was assuming that he would call in to his office.
Something less than an hour later, I received a distress call from a completely shell shocked John, asking for a ride away from Town Hall because he had just been ambushed by half the APD, who wouldn't let him drive away. I was having trouble grasping what exactly the problem was but went over there directly to find out and try to help him.
I remember that there were a lot of people peering too carefully out of windows and that John slumped into my car and said "just drive". I looked over next to me at John's Volvo station wagon with all the windows down, wondering if he had brought his dog with him who might be left in the car and said Nope! I wasn't taking him anywhere until he got back out and locked up his car before leaving it there with a bunch of creative thugs to make further use of, and he did so.
He then described that he had been met at the door by a rush of officers barring entry to the Admin. building and was then backed back up to his parking space for an elaborate and ritualized display by then Chief Brennan, showing off for an audience of at least 5 of his officers, on how to take down an inconvenient colleague. Instructive showmanship John said, and that with no other explanation, Brennan ordered him to march over to his car, get back inside his car (presumably to drive away), ordered to start his engine and then instructed to shut it back off, and get back out, and was then cited for illegally operating a vehicle in front of multiple uniformed witnesses.
I was already aware that Brennan had previously threatened John with statements like"you are making very rich and powerful people very angry, and If you don't back off of this audit--we will TURN YOU", (this was during the audit of a handful of illegal construction projects that had surfaced during the Building Deptment audit (think King, Ackley, Benzacar and I believe one other project), but I have to admit I was completely shocked to see how low that the police were willing to go for for these masters of the universe. I would not be shocked if the chief had a few secrets of his own as well mind you, but there was no active audit of the APD at the time so that I will assume he was just trying his hardest to impress some very powerful officials by garnering favor for big shots who influence the county.
I couldn't figure out how to get both my car and John's out of there with only one driver so I was very relieved when John suggested that he had a co- worker that lived a few blocks away in Atherton on Nora, and so I dropped him off over there at Tim Woulf's brother's house. Tim apparently drove John over to the DMV and then back to get his car at the Town Center. I can't remember now if Mr. Woulf started getting harassed at his home by the APD after this incident occurred and because of helping John out of that mess, or if his visits from various officers had already started because of his refusal to misrepresent facts under extreme pressure, during the Building Department audit. I believe that Tim met the same fate as John in the end, that it was ordered by the same people and executed by the same officers.
I don't think that the published police log was bait to get John back to Town Hall to stage this little detention event. I think his appearance was completely unexpected and that certain officers were merrily setting him up with some entirely other scenario that was being elaborately staged back in the finance dept offices by tampering with the equipment. My guess is that Chief Brennan was bursting with pride that his quick wits had saved the day by using the data base at his disposal illegally to render John helpless from defending himself from what ever mischief was going on in the back offices. I don't know exactly how impressed Brennan's acolytes were that day with his display, but I can guess how impressed any other jury of bystanders might have been. I have lived in Atherton for six decades which is long enough to expect better than this in my home town, and the very bad joke it has become. When the APD has nothing better to do than to pick off the town's"dead messengers" simply to make themselves feel popular with big shots, then the reality check has definitely bounced.
Posted by bob, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm
Melinda this is an intesting account of what happened, it seems there are too many I believe, I think or maybe this happened. Does anyone have a more exact version of what happened? This whole affair sounds the same the MP mayor who was set up by MP police.
Posted by Going on so long, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm
Mr. Buckheit's statistics are interesting, and he may even be right, I don't know, but this Town is pretty well entrenched with our police department and the majority of residents support it the way it is. Perhaps Mr. Buckheit would be happier elsewhere. I don't say that to be rude in any way, but at the end of the day, that might be what makes him happiest as I am sure it is frustrating for a gifted mind to see things very clearly a certain way but not able to change them because of entrenchment and perhaps apathy.
As far as Mr. Johns, if I am not mistaken, the Town paid him a legal settlement for whatever wrong conduct he suffered from at the hands of the Town. This seems to me to be just a rehash of that. But again, the matter was resolved to Mr. John's satisfaction (or he wouldn't have signed that legal settlement and taken the payment). So, why is this still going on?
In Mr. Buckheit's case, his matter has not been resolved, and I would agree with Thomas that it should be resolved as there is certainly enough there to justify an amicable resolution and make whatever amends with him that he deserves. At that point, I would hope all of these issues can be permanently put to bed.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm
Statistics can lead to profiling. Case in point would be using only recidivism statistics from those involved in domestic battery and using that criteria solely as the basis in arresting and convicting the wrong person or the use of racial profiling at airports with regards to suspected terrorists. While statistics may be helpful, they don't always lead to the correct conclusions. Unlike mathematics law is not an exact science and has too many other variables.
As I stated in my previous post, that does not mean that there may have been police misconduct in Mr. Buckheit's case just that using empirical data by itself is not a convincing argument.
In commenting on the post by "Going on so Long" I suspect that the town expected when it settled with Mr. Johns the matter would be resolved in good faith and now regrets that decision given Mr. Johns subsequent actions. While it has been reported by The Almanac that Mr.Buckheit has offered to drop his lawsuit were there to be an independent investigation (not initiated by the APD) I would think there is probably some uncertainty by at least by a few council members that he is also acting in good faith since he decided to throw Mr. Carlson into his quest for justice and he is also inexplicably tied to Mr. Johns.
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Mar 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm
In response to the comment by "going on so long"
This is not a rehash. My settlement was in relation to my civil suit over wrongful termination. (For which I was reinstated with back pay and received a certificate of commendation from the Town.)
My complaint against the Police Department alleges a violation of my civil rights under color of authority. What I am complaining about is criminal conduct on the part of fully one-third of the Atherton Police force. I have settled my civil dispute however I believe there are some who should still be held accountable for violating the public trust.
The crimes I complain about are a violation of Title 18 USC Section 242. These crimes have a seven year statute of limitations.
Posted by alex summerfield, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm
Thomas fails to grasp the distinction between a civil lawsuit and a criminal complaint.
It would be against the public interest to negotiate a civil settlement that includes a promise not to levy a criminal complaint. Such an agreement would be invalid as it would be against the public purpose.
As far as Mr. Buckheit goes, he offered to drop his civil suit if an investigation were conducted in a way that the results could be trusted.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm
Mr. Summerfield, there was never a criminal complaint filed. Mr. Buckheit introduced statistics as an explanation of possible police misconduct in Atherton and I cited examples whereby I felt statistics are often used to bolster a case but that they can be misleading. It's an entirely separate issue from his civil suit.
That should be evident if you have followed the entire thread.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm
For whatever it is worth, I agree with Thomas: statistics can be used to mislead. Certainly, that general possibility does not mean that examining anomalies in any set data is de facto futile. I invite discussion on the specifics of why the anomaly that the number of sustained police complaints in Atherton is lower than should be expected (compared to the state of California in general) is explainable and justifiable by specific factors related to the Town of Atherton (and a connection of why those specific factors militate for fewer or actually zero sustained complaints). Personally I don't find simply "different demographics" persuasive; what is it about the different demographics explains the discrepancy?
Posted by double trouble, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm
The allegations Johns made in his citizen's complaint are distinctly different from the allegations Guerra said Peterson investigated.
This "bait and switch" presents a credibility problem for Guerra because the former finance director made a copy of his complaint available to the interim City Manager, each member of the City Council and the press.
What's worse Johns provided evidence that Peterson was aware of a complaint against six officers, not four as Guerra has asserted.
Guerra now has to explain who wasn't investigated and why not.
Atherton's credibility problem has gotten much worse as a result of this botched cover-up.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm
what Guerra has done with his response is just highlight his total lack of competence as a chief of police. If Atherton is going to continue to hire inept [portion deleted] like, Guerra, Brennan et al, they will continue to have these problems. I'm sorry, Brennan leaves and goes to work at the San Mateo Sheriffs Department as a DEPUTY? In the jail?! Can you say serious STEP DOWN. If Brennan was worth a damn, he certainly wouldn't be working as a deputy in the jails. Dear god can you imagine Gascon or Joe McNamara working as deputies in a jail? Brennan and the other [portion deleted] Atherton has hired are so far over their heads it is unbelievable. Guerra is so far over his head in this situation it would be laughable if it wan't so sad. Any chief of a REAL police department would have gotten in front of this thing and "cut off the finger to save the hand." Yet he hasn't. He continues to try to protect the corrupt members of the APD. Wake up Atherton. Are you happy having a glorified private security force that can violate your rights at will or do you want to be protected by people that actually subscribe to the oath they swore to protect and serve? If you're happy having a glorified private security force, then so be it, but don't be surprised when what happened to Jon Buckheit happens to you. And don't think it can't happen to you.
Posted by Role Models?, a resident of another community, on Mar 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm
Here is what the chief of police of Stanford has said:
Wilson says her key role is not as an authority figure, but as a service provider.
"Society entrusts law enforcement officers with awesome power and authority," she said. "I believe it is imperative that officers understand the magnitude of this responsibility and remain mindful that we are role models and service providers, not law makers, judges or jurors."
Were the officers who harassed Mr. Johns "role models"?
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Mar 16, 2011 at 7:58 am
The following is a note I received from Chief Guerra in response to my request for information on his investigation. I have replied to his note. In my reply I attached correspondence from Mr. Peterson, the "independent" investigator admitting that he was aware of the fact that I had complained about the conduct of six officers, not four. The correspondence also evidences Mr. Peterson's lack of independence.
I intend to file another citizen's complaint once I find out just whom was investigated and for what.
I await the Chief's response.
From: Michael Guerra <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 5:33 PM
Subject: Your February 26 2010 Citizen Complaint
To: john johns
I am in receipt of your e-mail requesting access to a confidential employee personnel investigation, which was initiated as a result of your Citizen's Complaint dated February 26, 2010 (copy attached). Your original complaint alleged that one employee unlawfully searched your office, and another employee falsified evidence. During the course of Mr. Petersonís independent investigation, you asked for the investigation to be expanded to include two additional employees, which was done. Mr. Peterson completed an independent investigation, and determined that the allegations against each of the four involved employees were unfounded. The law does not allow you to have access to these files per Sections 832.7 and 832.8 of the California Penal Code without a court order. Atherton Police Department policy affords you the opportunity, or any citizen, to meet with me to discuss the findings of a Citizen Complaint. If you would like to meet with me about your complaint, we can schedule a meeting. Given your current claim against the Town, someone from the City Attorney's office will be in attendance at that meeting However, please keep in mind, that the law prevents me from discussing anything other than what is indicated in the above cited penal code sections.
Atherton Police Department
83 Ashfield Rd.
Atherton, CA 94027
Dear Chief Guerra
In your press release, you have claimed the investigation by Mr. Peterson to be independent. This is untrue. Attached please find a copy of an e-mail from me wherein Mr. Peterson discloses his lack of independence.
In your note below, you state that I seek access to confidential personnel records. I do not. I simply want to understand whom Mr. Peterson investigated and for what.
As indicated in the attached my citizen's complaint, I cited a violation of California PC 424, evidence tampering, unlawful search and seizure and illegal detention. The latter two of these complaints I made it clear in correspondence with Mr. Peterson to constitute a deprivation of my civil rights under color of authority (a violation of Title 18 USC Section 242 and a crime with a 7 year statute of limitations).
However, your press release on the disposition of my citizen's complaint makes no reference whatsoever to these allegations.
Your e-mail to me also states that I complained about the conduct of two officers and then added two additional officers. This statement is also false.
As is documented in Mr. Peterson's e-mail to me, I registered a complaint against five officers:
Additionally, since my earlier complaint included former Chief Robert Brennan, I complained about the conduct of six officere, not four.
It is for that reason I repeat my request, which officers did Mr. Peterson investigate, or more correctly which officers did you give Mr. Peterson permission to investigate?
By my count there are two officers who have yet to be investigated.
Finally, during my interview with Mr. Peterson he stated that he had once been accused of a crime. He did not state whether he was innocent nor did he indicate whether it occurred when he was in uniform at the time he was subject a criminal complaint. (Presumably the answer to both questions is yes). In any case, I do not believe Mr. Peterson should be considered independent or objective. He has made admissions as to his relationship with you and as to his background which clearly indicate that he has been compromised on both counts.
Please advise me as to when I will be apprised of just whom you investigated. Upon receipt of your reply it is my intention to file a new citizen's complaint to encompass those officers and crimes which have not heretofore been included within the scope of Mr. Peterson's investigation.
Finally, I did not receive any indication as to whether you will direct Mr. Peterson to comply with my request for a copy of the tape recording of my interview. Please advise as to when my request will be honored. As I said before, I recall agreeing to being tape recorded on the condition that I would receive a copy upon request. I am now making that request.
Posted by bad news, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2011 at 11:30 am
Guerra's press release and his e-mail to the former finance director who was harassed by the Police raises more questions than it answers.
Guerra makes no mention of the charge of evidence tampering and fraud. Guerra also acknowledges the complaint about an illegal raid on the former finance director's office but he does not explain how this allegation was addressed.
So it looks as though at least two allegations that weren't responded to and at lest two officers weren't investigated.
This attempt at a cover up is a failure. It also would seem to give Buckheit lots of ammunition in his argument that Peterson was hired to cover things up, rather than get to the bottom of the matter in his case.
Guerra is radioactive. This scandal unfortunately will have a long half-life. Guerra should be replaced ASAP
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm
In order for there to be a police complaint, there must be some sort of incident between an individual and an officer of the APD. It's my opinion that with only around 250 reported incidents per year coupled with the demographics of only 7,000 people, a median annual household income of $200,000 as well as a being one of the only cities in California without a commercial district that it should not come as a big surprise there has been so few complaints about APD police misconduct as compared with other cities in California.
From a mathematical perspective, I would suggest that with an enhanced demographic, certain towns (such as Atherton) are not subject to using the same roulette wheel as say Palo Alto or Menlo Park. Instead of 18 black, 18 red and two zeros, an enhanced demographic allows for 28 black, 9 red and one zero making black a better bet and less odds that one will lose. This is of course a hypothetical example to illustrate
Again, this is not to say that there might be a problem with the way the Atherton Police handled the situation with Mr. Buckheit and that statistics can be helpful tools. I just don't feel that you can apply the science of mathematics, which relies solely on empirical data to social science which uses not only empirical data (statistics) but critical analysis (demographics) as well.
Posted by Raul, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm
The debate over statistics and how they have been interpreted masks an issue is painfully obvious. Atherton has a problem with its Department The cops in charge are either unwilling or unable to police their underlings.
The two most recent so called investigations provide the proof that is necessary.
In Buckheit's case the investigator refused to interview Buckheit. In the case of the former finance director his most serious complaints weren't addressed at all. Worse yet, not all of the investigators implicated were investigated.
The way Guerra handled the last two investigations improves Buckheit's case immeasurably.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2011 at 9:22 pm
Thomas - while I agree with your comment that numbers alone can't tell a story, I would note that:
1. The numbers do NOT show there have been "so few complaints about APD police misconduct." The rate of complaints in Atherton is actually higher than one would expect given the population and number of officers.
2. That may be beside the point, since my main argument does not have to do with the frequency of complaints. I am looking at when a complaint is made in Atherton, is it more likely or less likely to be upheld than the state-wide data shows. The answer is less likely, and significantly so. While I understand your argument about why the frequency of complaints should be less in Atherton, given the demographics and population (even though it actually isn't according to the numbers), I don't believe it addresses why Atherton should (if you indeed agree it should) have its percentage of legitimate complaints to total complaints significantly lower than other jurisdictions. Please note I am referring to percentages throughout as obviously Atherton has fewer complaints in total number than Los Angeles or San Francisco. Ratios are the correct aspect to consider.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm
Mr. Buckheit, while I understood your statements regarding frequency of complaints vs. sustained complaints, I saw no Atherton data on this with regards to the weblink you provided. Apparently there is information on your weblink that I am not able to view. Can you provide the website addresses on the information pertaining to your weblink since I seem to be having a problem accessing them. Perhaps other people may be experiencing the same problem.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 7:52 am
Thomas - sorry for the confusion. My link only had state-wide data. The Atherton data (including the zero sustained complaints over the past six years) came from an Atherton community meeting last year to discuss police issues and was part of a slideshow presentation by Chief Guerra.
Posted by Jim James, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm
Another factor is that with a lower number of complaints, confidence in the percent that are sustained, is also lower. A city with 2500 complaints might have 500 that are sustained, or 20% of the total. The chance of the next complaint being sustained might be predicted with confidence, between 15-25%.
For all factors equal (demographics, size of police force, etc.), having the same confidence might require a broader range, say 5-35% chance of complaints being sustained. We'd expect a greater range for the prediction, or lower confidence, with a city with a smaller number of complaints.
All things considered, zero is still a very small number. In this case (and sadly), predictably so.
Posted by Carla Andreozzi, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm
It is difficult to comprehend how Mr Peterson could have been objective when the department he headed for seven years was a prime example in the ACLU's fight to stop the systematic abuse of civil rights by law enforcement.
This revelation is most disturbing. It begs the question: How did Mr. Guerra become acquainted with Mr. Peterson and why did he select him?
If he did so to make a scandal go away, he has not succeeded. I admire them for their courage. I hope others will now have the heart to speak out.
Many thanks to Mr. Johns and Mr. Buckheit for bringing the issue of police misconduct to our attention.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm
I'm not sure the police chief in a town is the primary reason that people choose to buy a home in Atherton...
But instead of hiring "a chief from the outside," how about contracting with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department? They are better trained, they are less expensive, they have far more resources... and they are HERE. Other than watering the plants when a resident is out of town, they would seem to be a good choice on all counts.
I know, it make too much sense for this Town Council to give it serious thought.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm
While I doubt very seriously Atherton residents would ever be willing to part with their own police department, it certainly would not solve the issue people are having with alleged misconduct.
It should be pointed out that when the Sheriff's Department recently took over police services in San Carlos, it won the contract over Redwood City in part because it guaranteed the jobs for every member of the San Carlos force. Chief Guerra would remain and his title changed to Sheriff Captain Guerra.
Posted by Scott Hendersen, a resident of the Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks neighborhood, on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm
In light of the litany of procedural errors made by Peterson and in light of Peterson's tainted background, there can be little doubt that Guerra has acted in a way to prevent a legitimate internal affairs investigation from ever being performed.
As a result Guerra has, himself, become vulnerable to a citizen's complaint. The crux of such a complaint would be that Guerra has effectively denied complainants to their right to a timely, thorough and objective investigation.
If and when this shoe will drop is anybody's guess.
Posted by Pathetic, a resident of another community, on Mar 17, 2011 at 10:55 pm
Don't you filthy rich people like Carpenter, Buckheit (both from Atherton) and POGO (from Woodisde) have anything better to do than criticize hard working police officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect you? Is this what happens when people make money and lose track of what it means to be a human being? Carpenter thinks a judge should re-investigate? As in keep investigating until the outcome rich people want is produced? I guess it is true that the rich are different and expect to be treated that way. I'm glad my kids are learning working class values [portion removed; avoid personal attacks].
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 7:06 am
[Portion removed; personal attack] The police officers of APD don't "put their lives on the line every day." APD is a joke. It is a glorified private security force and it has an incompetent leader and some corrupt officers working there. THAT is why they are being criticized.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm
Mr. Pathetic calls me (and others) "filthy rich" with nothing "better to do than criticize hard working police officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect you" - and that's NOT a personal attack.
By I say his pseudonym is well suited and you deem that IS a personal attack?
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm
Mr. Stogner's recent post reminds me of a wife who discovers her husband has been having an affair and is angrier at the mistress rather than at own her husband. If there is a problem of alleged misconduct with the APD, the anger should be directed at the town council for not taking the proper steps to see if there is indeed a problem, not the APD which was given a pass by the town council to investigate it's own possible internal problem. The town council certainly has the ability to form an independent oversight committee to do it's own investigation.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm
Mr. Stogner, my example was meant to illustrate your misdirected blame for what you deemed in your post that "somehow they (the APD) believe they can keep this abuse going". My reply was not trying to interpret the emotion of your post.
I also respectfully disagree with you that it fell upon Mr. Gruber or the new city manager to resolve this problem. While the city manager can offer an opinion, the decision ultimately rests with the council members and since neither you nor I have been privy to any of the discussions, we don't know for a fact that either the former or current city manager did not recommend the formation of an oversight committee. I would also add that the city attorney has an even greater influence than the city manager on the council and I'm quite sure the council members would defer to her opinion over the city manager so your speculation as to why Mr. Gruber is gone I find careless. As someone that has been seeking a public office, I would caution you with regards to some of your statements that tend to assign blame without having a full command of the facts.
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm
Busybody...you're flat out wrong. I suggest you google "Summerdale Town Council fires Police Chief" or "Town Council fires Windermere's Police Chief". These are just two recent firings of police chiefs by town councils. There is no city manager that would unilaterally make the decision to fire a city employee such as Chief Guerra or Lt. Wade without the consent of their town council. Perhaps you are confusing employees under the jurisdiction of the city manager such as Mr. Johns but the city manager does not have the final word with terminations outside his department. Such a decision would place their own position in jeopardy since it would be outside to scope of their duties.
Posted by Ed, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm
News Flash for Thomas
The City Manager does appoint the Police Chief as Gruber did twice within 13 months and in the case of Guerra, without even conferring with the council (he was afraid they would say no).
The only staff the City Manager can't fire, is the city attorney.
Also while I wouldn't want to speak for Stogner on his point about Gruber--lets all at least acknowledge that Jerry Gruber was cashing a pay check for a job he did NOTin fact perform. The same night be said of Chief Guerra.
Posted by Both Right, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2011 at 12:05 am
Thomas is right: an elected city council has the clear apparent power to fire a police chief whether or not that is within the "council/manager" form of government. He has cited other cities in which this has been done. While the police chief in Atherton currently reports to the city manager, the chief actually used to report to the council and the council could simply change that back again (and then fire him without even a technical conflict) at any time with a majority vote.
BusyBody and Ed are right: in Atherton, some ten years of corrupt government has resulted in the city attorney, police chief, and city manager convincing the council and the public that the council is really nothing more than a ceremonial body that happens to pick the city manager, and nothing else. Thomas is also correct in that in any well-run city, the city manager would not be able to fire (or, as Ed pointed out, hire) the police chief without at least running it by the council, just as in a well-run corporation with a functional board of directors, the CEO would not fire (or hire) a CFO without doing the same.
Where Thomas is most correct is that it would serve Atherton and its residents well for the city council to reclaim the power it has always had by virtue of being elected by the taxpayers and to start running the town in the best interests of its residents. While whether or not to keep Chief Guerra is a call they should make, at minimum they should be, as Thomas has also suggested, commissioning an independent investigator and/or police auditor as Palo Alto has to either fix conduct problems in the police department, or to provide a credible finding once and for all that the conduct problems are not out the ordinary. It is quite clear that Mr. Peterson cannot realistically fit that bill (nor could any investigator picked by the body that needs to be investigated).
Posted by Thomas, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2011 at 12:10 am
Ed...I appreciate your input as well as the correct spelling of my name this time with your latest post. We were talking about terminations by the city manager..not appointments that were authorized by the town council.
Posted by local government guru, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2011 at 10:11 am
There are two ways to restore the public's trust in the Atherton Police Department. One way would be for the City Manager to keep firing police chiefs until he finds one that is able and willing to take control of the department.
The other solution although less direct would be to establish a police oversight committee.
There is a precedent for citizen involvement in helping manage the Town's affairs. In 1999 and 2000, the Town's Finance Department was reeling from a series of scandals. The audit committee was formed. The audit committee participated in the selection of a new finance director.
The man selected was John Johns, a former senior manager with the "big four" CPA firm KPMG.
As is a well established fact, Johns cleaned up the Finance Department. Acting above and beyond the call of duty, Johns also helped clean up the Building Department.
At the urging of the Town's Finance Committee, Johns turned his attention to the Police Department, only to be expelled from Town shortly thereafter.
The Police Department thought with the successful ouster of Mr. Johns it was free to continue misbehaving.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm
The Town government is a three legged stool - the Council, the Town Manager and the Town Attorney. All three must earn and retain the respect and the trust of the citizens. The Town is in the process of selecting a new Town Attorney and will soon begin the process of selecting a new Town Manager. The Town Council appoints both the Town Manager and the Town Attorney.
And the citizen elect the members of the Town Council on a regular basis.
We get exactly the kind of government that we deserve.