The daughter of Menlo Park resident William Burnett, an assistant professor at Stanford University, is alleging police misconduct in connection with his arrest on suspicion of allowing teenage drinking at a party at his house in the 1200 block of Woodland Avenue at around 11 p.m. Friday (Nov. 25).
Eliza Burnett, William Burnett's 21-year-old daughter, sent an email to the Almanac with the allegations. Burnett said his daughter was not at home at the time but confirmed the accuracy of her statements.
Eliza Burnett's mother was recovering from back surgery and standing with a metal walker in a room in her house, Eliza Burnett wrote. Also in the room, she said, were officers from the Menlo Park Police Department who, having arrested William Burnett, were handcuffing him as they prepared to take him off to San Mateo County jail.
Also on the premises were more than 40 teenagers celebrating a football victory by Menlo-Atherton High School. Police department spokeswoman Nicole Acker said the police were called in on a report of a "large party with possible underage drinking."
Police found teens "ages 16-17 years old displaying the signs of being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage," Acker said.
Menlo Park Police Chief Bryan Roberts has not yet responded to an interview request.
During the incident, Eliza Burnett said, her mother asked the officers why they were arresting her husband, who had not been read his Miranda rights, according to Eliza. In response, officers handcuffed her mother and "forced" her outside to stand in the night air without her walker, Eliza said.
William Burnett and Eliza, on the advice of an attorney, declined interviews.
William Burnett is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, the executive director of the university's Institute of Design, and a co-founder and senior fellow at D2M, a Mountain View company that consults on refining a product's design.
In her email, Eliza Burnett describes her younger brother as in tears after witnessing the treatment of his mother and asking officers if he could bring her a chair or her walker. Officers told him to "shut up and get back in line," Burnett wrote. The teens were queued up for interviews in a line that extended outside.
Police arrested William Burnett on suspicion of 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors. But he did not learn of the nature of the allegations against him until the following morning, when his wife and his daughter told him during his release from jail, Eliza wrote.
Police did not witness drinking by the teens, nor did they conduct breathalyzer tests, she wrote.
William Burnett's bail was dropped "due to his spotless record and the baselessness of the charges," Burnett wrote.
In further allegations:
Police told her mother that they "didn't believe" her responses to their questions and taunted her while she was in handcuffs, calling her "a disgusting parent," Eliza wrote.
Police refused Burnett's request that jackets and blankets be taken to the teens waiting in line outside to be interviewed. One of the officers allegedly replied: "No, let them freeze. We are teaching these kids a lesson." Eliza wrote.
Police detained a 22-year-old woman passing by the party during the incident. When the woman denied any involvement, police told her that they "didn't believe her," that she had "probably been coming to bring the kids drugs and alcohol," and she would be arrested on charges of "fleeing the scene" if she left, Eliza wrote.
"On Friday night, the officers of the Menlo Park police squad vastly overstepped the legal limits of their power," Eliza wrote.
"As law enforcement officers, their job in this case was to inform those involved in the incident of the law and of their rights," Burnett continued. "These officers did neither, choosing instead to intimidate minors into answering unlawful questions, abuse a disabled woman, and arrest a man without ever telling him why."
By "unlawful questions," Burnett is referring to her assertion that youth have the right to have a parent or guardian present during questioning by police, and that the police in this case did not afford them that right.