News

Who is Sgt. Michael Yore?

Detective behind the Children's Theatre investigation has critics — and fans

The resolution of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre investigation into suspected financial crimes depends on police Sgt. Michael Yore, the case's lead investigator.

But Yore's professional integrity was called into question by a April 24 article in the Palo Alto Daily News, which highlighted his testimony about a mid-1990s investigation he led. Police Chief Lynne Johnson issued a rare statement criticizing the article, which she said contained information that is "incomplete and inaccurate."

"The way the article was written and excerpted statements were chosen, it appears as though the newspaper intended to discredit the Palo Alto Police Department and impugn the reputation of a highly regarded detective sergeant," Johnson wrote.

The Daily News stands by its story, Executive Editor Mario Dianda said Friday.

Yore, who has been working fulltime on the Children's Theatre case since January, has been off-limits to the press and public per Johnson's orders. The unavailability has created an aura around the detective whose work will determine the fate of the theater case and of the three employees who are on administrative leave.

However, court documents, archived news articles, the chief and two of Yore's colleagues all offer a glimpse of the 55-year-old investigator, creating a rough profile.

Yore enjoys motorcycles, cars and firearms. From a large family, Yore graduated from Saratoga High School and earned a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University in psychology.

He joined the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department as a deputy in the mid-1970s before being hired by the Palo Alto Police Department in 1981.

Assistant Police Chief Dennis Burns called Yore a "quintessential detective."

"He's got a very analytical mind; he's an excellent interviewer," Burns said. "He can relate to a wide variety of people, from a person we would consider a common criminal to a very sophisticated Stanford professor and everyone in between."

Yore's current boss, Capt. Mark Venable, said Yore has a "unique, innate ability to look at these complex cases and the multitude of angles that these cases have.

"He has an ability that can sometimes transcend the noise and the commotion of a case and get into more of the heart of what happened."

Yore is fluent in Spanish, a former SWAT team member and a firearms expert, Burns and Venable said.

Yore volunteers to work on tough cases, said Venable, who has worked with Yore for about 20 years.

"I trust Mike. He is a very dependable and reliable detective, and I trust his insights and his instinct. I trust, too, that Mike has had years of experience to know when we work cases, it's a team approach. No one individual is making decisions or going off on paths without the collective think of the group," Venable said.

Yet in two previous well-known cases, and the current Children's Theatre probe, Yore's behavior has been criticized.

Yore was a lead investigator in the death of Palo Alto resident Josephine Galbraith.

Although Galbraith died in 1985, her former husband, Nelson, was arrested for murder 16 months later. He was acquitted in 1998 and then initiated a lawsuit that rebounded through the court system (even after his 2002 death) until it was settled last Tuesday, with a $400,000 payment and apology from Santa Clara County.

In a 2005 day-long deposition, Yore appears as though he didn't prepare to testify, often answering, "I don't know." But as he also stated during the deposition, he considered the family's lawsuit "ludicrous."

"What are some of the typical characteristics of the corpse [that has died from a non-hanging strangulation?" Galbraith's attorney Michael Goldsmith asked him.

"The typical characteristics would be the fact that, No. 1, the corpse is cold to the touch in many cases. We have lividity. We may have — in varying stages. We may — obviously the corpse would not be breathing. Obviously, there's some other aspects of petechiae that are present in many of the occasions, both in the forehead and the eyes. The fact that there is oftentimes a purging, which is a symptom — a purging from the throat and that certainly depends on how long and how tight and a number of different issues. And that's all I can think of at this point in time," Yore said.

Later in the examination, Goldsmith pointed out that all corpses become cold and livid, with blood pooled down, and Yore agreed.

Yore also told Goldsmith that he considered Josephine Galbraith's death suspicious and asked for additional investigation, such as photograph-taking, that wouldn't usually be done if suicide was known.

Yore still believed that Nelson Galbraith had murdered his wife and had never considered the case a suicide, he said.

But though he considered the death a murder, he didn't ask for the initial police report, which indicated Galbraith's death had been a suicide, to be corrected. The report had been written by an officer Yore was supervising, who said that Yore indicated Galbraith's death had been a suicide — an error, Yore told Goldsmith.

He said he considered it insignificant, because suicide and "unattended death" are nearly synonyms, and the facts were stated accurately.

Monday, Goldsmith would comment only briefly on his experience with Yore: "We might say the county's decision, based on medical evidence, to change the manner of death from murder to suicide demonstrates the errors of Michael Yore's way."

In another case, the 1994 murder of Stanford University graduate student David Liu, one of the men eventually convicted of the murder, Eddie Pereles, reportedly told his attorney Yore had threatened to tie him to a billboard and leave him with a rival gang member.

That attorney, Deputy Public Defender Craig Kennedy, confirmed Pereles' statement Monday.

Assistant Chief Burns said all audio from interviews is recorded.

"We'd be pretty apparent if we were doing anything untoward or trampling on people's rights," Burns said.

Venable said Yore is a very careful detective.

"I've never known or would believe Mike to step over the line. Mike doesn't do that," he said.

Instead, Yore organized a robbery task force because police didn't have enough evidence to convict Pereles, then 22, whom they believed was involved in a string of robberies with another man, Burns said.

"They were able to arrest them on the robberies and during the interview of the robberies, Sgt. Yore was able to elicit the confession," Burns said.

Yore gained widespread recognition for cracking the 1985 Niebauer case in 1998.

Abigail Niebauer died in 1995 in the Mariposa Avenue home she shared with her husband, James. James told police at the time he had been refurbishing his gun when it accidentally fired.

The case's discrepancies piqued Yore's interest in 1993, and he spent five years pouring over the case, building forensic evidence.

By 1997, he had enough proof to win the support of a Santa Clara County Grand Jury, and by the end of that year, the 69-year-old James Niebauer was arrested for his wife's murder 12 years earlier.

Burns said he stills sees Yore pop up occasionally on a cold-case television show.

Yore also received a heroism award for his rescue of a drowning child when he was a sheriff's deputy, Burns said.

Yore's handling of the Children's Theatre case, which has placed three well-known city employees on administrative leave, their reputations tarnished at least, has provoked widespread community concern.

"If they had something, it should have come out," theater supporter Suzie Stewart said recently.

And theater Director Pat Briggs' attorney, Diane de Seve, was even more direct.

"(Yore has) basically turned a straightforward burglary into a complete disaster, not only for my client but also for the Palo Alto community," de Seve said. "I think he needs some adult supervision.

"This is solely being driven by Det. Yore. ... He's committed himself; he started it; and he's determined to find some wrongdoing," de Seve said. "His interest is so broad and so unfocused."

But to those who know him, Yore isn't a mystery man commanding an investigation gone wrong, Venable said.

"Behind all the hyperbole is a great detective with 30-plus years of public service and great records," Venable said.

Related material:

Chief rebuts Daily News article on Sgt. Yore

Full text of Chief Lynne Johnson's statement

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by 50 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm

"Yore's handling of the Children's Theatre case, which has placed three well-known city employees on administrative leave, their reputations tarnished at least, has provoked widespread community concern".

I have known Pat for years. Her reputation is NOT tarnished.

The only reputation that has been tarnished are those who have let this investigation get way out of control.

Would you please let these employees come back to work - geez!

It is not like they would try to make a run for it.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

What has gone wrong here. Everyone should be allowed to return to work as the investigation.

The reputation of the people handling this case have been tarnished.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RJ
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 30, 2008 at 4:50 am

Yes, interviews are taped. But police can turn on or off the tape recorder at any time.

In "false confession" cases that are later overturned, a cop will typically turn off a tape recorder and tell the suspect that he's going to prison for a very long time. But if he confesses now, he can shorten that sentence considerably. A suspect who is innocent but nonetheless figures that he has no chance of convincing anyone of that will often take the "deal" on the spot and make a false confession. What would you rather do, spend 50 years in jail for a crime you didn't commit or 10 years?

This isn't some far fetched scenario for the Palo Alto Police Department. Remember the 18-year-old Gunn High School graduate who was arrested in May 2002 for supposedly raping a 94-year-old woman at the Palo Alto Commons nursing home?

Another Palo Alto detective told the suspect that they had surveillance video of him entering the nursing home before the woman was raped, and that he would be convicted. That claim turned out to be a lie.

The tape of the interview is shut off and then it goes back on again. Then the trembling teen, who must of thought his life was over at that point, gave a "confession" to Palo Alto police. The cops threw him in jail where he remained for three weeks. Then the D.A. got the DNA tests back. No match. Somebody else raped the woman.

The D.A. insisted that the teen be released. The chief at the time, Pat Dwyer, was so angry that he refused to say the kid was innocent even though he had been completely exonerated by DNA evidence. The chief continued to insist the kid was somehow involved. Even after it came out that cops couldn't identify the person they saw on the surveillance video.

Later, the city coughed up a settlement -- $75,000. The amount was nothing to the city. The city spends more each month on catering.

The officers involved in this case should have been punished not only for arresting the wrong person but for scaring this kid into giving a false confession. It would have also sent a message to other officers that this kind of conduct was completely unacceptable. Instead, the chief, by saying that he believed the kid was still guilty despite the evidence, creates an environment where cops will continue to squeeze false confessions out of innocent people.

BTW, it's interesting how Chief Johnson isn't specific about her claim that the Daily supposedly made errors in its story. She just makes a few general comments about things being out of context, but the Weekly (which always wants to find a way to bash the Daily) doesn't press her to be specific. That's a disservice to the public. If the article, which was based largely on court transcripts, was flawed, how so? Correct the record so that the public has the right impression about how Yore arrested the wrong person for murder.
Is it possible that she's just trying to deflect attention from the fact that her officers blew both the Children's Theater and Galbraith cases?



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto - Get Over Yourself
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:45 am

Who the cop is isn't really anyone's business at this point.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Doesn't he have a boss?
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 30, 2008 at 11:03 am

I have followed this entire saga with great amazement. First of all the articles mentioned that he flew out to Texas in November to interview the former theater head about theater business practices. So that means, and correct me if I read this wrong, even though PAPD knew that the EPA man burgled the items and was caught with them in a UHAUL in San Carlos they still sent two people to interview the former director in Texas in November. Yet they still shut down a production with kids in the theater in January, as if there was a current danger.

Now, it has been at least six months of investigation into this theater fracas. PLEASE STOP. You would think that Enron collapsed here in Palo Alto or Kenneth Starr was investigating Bill Clinton.
Even if some old costumes or travelers checks went missing why is this investigation going on and on and on? And the strange thing is no one in Palo Alto, including the Mayor or City Council seems to have any idea of its conclusion or whether the probe will go on for another six months.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2008 at 11:51 am

Did the City Manager place the Children's Theater employees on administrative leave on the recommendation of the Police Chief, or was the decision to remove the employees from their life's work and prevent communication among themselves and between them and the public independent of the criminal investigation?

What event was the reason for the timing of the decision to place the Children's Theater employees on adminstrative leave other than knowledge of Micheal Liftin's terminal illness?

What caused two investigators to go to Suguar Land, Texas to interview the former Director of Arts and Sciences in late November 2007, about the same time as the City Manager announced his plans to retire on June 30, 2008?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charles
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm

RJ - Chief Dwyer may have had evidence that the 18 year old was involved with the crime at the Commons without actually participating in the rape. As long as a case is not closed, the police should not disclose evidence which might later compromise it.

If you wish to know how the court transcripts are flawed, you have every right to read them and decide the truth of the matter. Or you can ask the chief for one or two errors to support her statements.

Making innuendos or asking slanted open-ended questions does not help to shed light on the events.


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