News

911 nightmare: A tug of war for information

City keeps changing its mind over releasing information about the June 3 incident

Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada has ordered city staff not to answer questions or make comments on the mishandled June 3 emergency medical call by a Palo Alto resident, an unusual departure from the city's typical interactions with the media.

Shikada initially denied the Palo Alto Weekly's request to interview him, police Chief Bob Jonsen and fire Chief Geo Blackshire and asked for all questions to be submitted in writing. That practice, which most media organizations discourage, precludes follow-up and clarifying questions that are usually necessary to obtain accurate information.

Then on Aug. 22, the Weekly was notified by email that Shikada had decided the city would not have any comment on the case.

Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson met with Shikada and City Attorney Molly Stump on Aug. 26 to try and negotiate in-person interviews, and Shikada agreed. But three days later, he emailed the Weekly saying he had changed his mind and would only be issuing a statement. He offered to take written questions instead.

"Based on the complexity of the issues involved, we've decided it best to give you a written statement; we'll send it over early next week. In addition, as indicated earlier we'd be happy to respond to questions in writing," Shikada wrote.

On Sept. 4, Shikada provided the statement. It said that staff had determined that the handling of the June 3 call justified "reinforcing" existing department policies and additional staff training. He said the city has conducted additional training for the emergency call dispatch unit, clarified its policy and trained personnel to ensure that the police and fire departments are dispatched to emergency events with the same priority response, reinforced its policy and trained personnel to only require staging by the fire department when there is clear indication of the risk of harm to city personnel.

The Weekly sent a list of specific questions to Shikada, Jonsen and Blackshire on Sept. 5 with a request for a response by Sept. 9.

On Sept. 9, however, the city's new chief communications officer, Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, emailed the Weekly saying the city would not be answering any questions or making further comments.

The woman who was the subject of the 911 call and her husband have been locked in a similar stalemate with the city attorney's office. The husband sent multiple California Public Records Act requests to the police department as early as June 11 seeking the incident log, police report and copies of the 911 recording, patrol car and body-worn camera footage from the two responding police officers, and other records and policies.

The city told the couple it was withholding the recordings under an investigatory exemption of the Public Records Act. The husband said he responded during a July 8 meeting with Jonsen and Shikada that the exemption didn't apply since no crime had been committed and there wasn't any investigation.

Shikada told him the city's policy is not to provide records unless required to under the Public Records Act. He didn't intend to make an exception in this case, the husband recalled. When pressed, Shikada said he was following the advice of the city attorney's office.

The city eventually reversed itself and released much of the requested materials to the woman and her husband after they engaged an attorney.

"The city violated the California Public Records Act until we sent a letter from our lawyer that walked through the statutory (regulations). They had a strategy of stall, delay and violate the PRA unless they were forced to comply," the husband said.

The city supplied the couple with Officer Yolanda Franco-Clausen's body-worn camera and vehicle recordings and, eventually, her GPS location data, but it hasn't provided anything from Sgt. Adrienne Moore. The city is now claiming, according to letters sent to the attorney representing the couple, that it has no body cam or car camera footage for the sergeant, nor GPS data that shows her activity that day. It has refused to disclose whether such data had ever existed and if it had been deleted or destroyed. Staff also allege there was no radio, text or other communication between Clausen and Moore.

This is part of a larger story on the mishandling of a June 3 911 call that can be found here.

Related content:

The 12 questions the city won't answer

TIMELINE: The 911 call: What happened when

Editorial: When local government leaders refuse to answer questions, they become their own worst enemies

City Council has questions about mishandled 911 call

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Moral Rot at the Top
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2019 at 3:48 am

This is sadly one more case of our city government failing to follow the laws. Our current and prior City Managers and our City Attorney already have on their rap sheet the dismal 27 University affair, the illegal Palantir tent at Cubberley, the President Hotel Apartments debacle that led to evictions of dozens of long-time residents, the refusal to prosecute illegal offices and Castilleja for ongoing municipal code violations, and the violent and discriminatory police action against a Buena Vista resident and subsequent cover-up. With such moral decay at the top, would any honest person feel comfortable working for our city government? Many good people have left in recent years.

Our City Council has just seven members, so four votes are enough to dismiss Shikada and Stump and bring in new leadership with much higher moral standards. Let's hope that happens soon.


17 people like this
Posted by A Moral Compass
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2019 at 7:15 am

A Moral Compass is a registered user.

This is a cover-up to avoid adding further support to a potential lawsuit against the city for the negligence on the part of its public safety employees.

Chances are the City Attorney has advised this measure to avoid the disclosure of additional details...aka damaging facts.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2019 at 7:45 am

No doubt they have been advised by an Attorney to not say anything, in anticipation of legal proceedings. There ought to be a better way to handle things like this...


12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2019 at 11:36 am

So tired of the lack of accountability in Palo Alto. 3,000+ residents complain about dangerous traffic "improvements" via petition and the city hires consultants to tell us we're wrong. The former mayor denies we have traffic problems when we've got the 2d worst traffic in the COUNTRY. The City Council supports "car light" developments that are under-parked to the benefit of developers and then authorizes $9,000,000 to put in chargers on private property.

Keep up the good reporting and keep demanding answers.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2019 at 1:54 pm

@Moral Rot, you forgot to mention failure to enforce the 25 mph speed limit.


2 people like this
Posted by Nicholas Kaposhilin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 29, 2019 at 1:55 am

This whole affair is super disturbing. Not only did the Police run amok demonstrating a systemic problem with protocols and operating procedures, but now the city manager and city legal counsel are turning this into an adversarial situation with the press and residents through their lack of transparency and refusal to cooperate openly. The city manager works for US. The city legal counsel works for US. They are suppose to serve the citizens. If the city screwed up, then so be it, let's get it all out in the open. Let's fix it. It is OUR city. It is OUR problem. But when city managers act like they are working for, and representing their own private organization, then we have a BIG problem. Takada and the city legal counsel should be fired immediately. They are not fit to manage a city; Not fit to work for a government of the people. They demonstrate no accountability.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2019 at 10:17 pm

I was at a public meeting a while back,I was chatting with another resident. I looked behind us and I caught Shikada rolling his eyes at councilman Filseth, In regards to our conversation. I was going to confront him, but figured it was not worth it. I was thinking to myself; Where did these folks come from? And who voted/hired them in?

What couple of a&#@##&s.


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