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Police search homes of Children's Theatre staff

Original post made on Jan 29, 2008

Palo Alto police officers have searched the residences of the four Children's Theatre employees presently on administrative leave, reportedly confiscating computers, according to several sources. See related story below.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 29, 2008, 10:34 PM

Comments (46)

Posted by Jeremy, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2008 at 11:54 pm

This is outrageous! No charges have been made, no evidence presented. Why have the police thought it necessary to close a public theatre, confiscate equipment, and search private residences without first presenting evidence or opening a dialogue with the people involved? What "financial crimes" could justify such harsh, punitive behavior?

The first step in a perceived conflict should be to open a dialogue. The police are acting as if they are hunting hardened criminals, not valued City employees. This is scary, embarrasing, and a dangerous precedent for the City to set.

If the police do not find what they are looking for, will they search elsewhere? What if they find nothing? Will they insist the investigation is validated by the lack of evidence?

They should stop searching and start talking--to the Children's Theatre Staff, the City Council, all of us.

Perhaps then the police--and all of us-- would have some answers.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 12:21 am

Let the Palo Alto police do their job and let's wait to see what they have.


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 12:29 am

Outrageous? Investigating a crime? Not blabbing about in public? Oh, what strange behavior.


Posted by Annie, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 1:47 am

Who would possibly work for a City that treats employees with a golden track record and who are gravely ill in such a barbarous manner? They talk about City morale being low, but this is the all time kicker.

Theatre staff have performed heroically for decades. They have entertained us, raised our children and imparted precious values. Thousands of children have gone through those magic doors.

The real crime is how we have treated them. Frank Benest should resign in shame, NOW - and consider himself lucky.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2008 at 2:10 am

I agree with Tim, let the police do their job and stop over reacting people!


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2008 at 3:48 am

Jeremy and Annie: wake up, how naive can you be. A Judge would not issue a search warrant without good cause.

Let the police do their job, and give them time to do it. Then, comment on whether they were right or wrong. To comment so negatively on City staff and the City Manager before you know the facts is misguided at the very least.

I feel sorry for your children.


Posted by renee deutsch, a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2008 at 5:30 am


Hello

Do not worry about the kids. The Children's Theatre has taught them how to cope. Worry about the effects of all this on the staff.

Renee.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 7:42 am

I am a former actor at the Theatre and proud to count Pat and Michael as my dearest friends. They taught us by example to be honest and use our voices to speak out.

I'm ashamed to live in a city that treats people this way.


Posted by Annie, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 8:20 am

Dear Neighbor,

The Palo Alto Police Department has mis-stepped so many times in the past few years! Who is being naive?




Posted by PACT family, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2008 at 9:26 am

Has anyone thought of starting a Legal Defense site for the PACT staff? At the very least perhaps some attorney parent could step forward to advise them. I cannot imagine how stressful it must be to be ill, alone and told not to speak to anyone while blue gloved police invade your home confiscating personal items.

Perhaps an attorney should be present to make sure nothing is planted to justify this inquisition.


Posted by Adam, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2008 at 9:28 am

Should the police ignore a crime? If other crimes are committed and ignored, I can hear all of you howling, "the police aren't doing their job"!

What are you teaching your children? That it's okay to steal because the police must be selective in how they investigate?

Stop second guessing and let the police do their job.


Posted by oldtimer, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

Does anyone remember the PA Utilities scandal? Because they caught one worker illegally parked in the afternoon they spent over 300000 investigating financial "crimes" and overtime from staff. What exactly became of that investigation?


Posted by Jim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:27 am

Under California law (Penal Code 1524 (a) (4)) - a search warrant may be issued "When the property or things to be seized consist of any item or constitute any evidence that tends to show a felony has been committed, or tends to show that a particular person has committed a felony". There is no requirement that the individual whose property is seized be a suspect in the crime.

It is natural to assume that senior administrators of any organization would have computer copies of financial and other documents relating to the operation of the organization, without necessarily being a part of (or even aware of) criminal activity. Some financial crimes are so convoluted that it takes experienced auditors to sort out the information.

A judge was convinced by testimony (and a sworn affidavit) that a felony has been indeed been committed. It is the job of the Police Department to investigate that felony, and part of that job is gathering all available evidence, wherever it may be.

It appears to me that the Police Department is doing the very job it is intended to do, in a proper, professional, and thorough manner. Something clearly has happened here - let's not second-guess the professionals.


Posted by PACT Parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:28 am

>>Do not worry about the kids.

Renee Deutsch, did you really mean to say that?

Children who are current involved with the theater have mixed feelings about this entire mess. They were inside the theater on Thursday while the police was closing it. (I still don't understand why the city could not have waited until after they left to close the theater).

During the weekend they had no idea if the show was going to go on or not.

They are worried about what will happen to the theater and to the people the love and respect!

And, going back to the theater on Monday was not an easy task for the kids. The press was right in front of the theater door trying to interview them, and taking pictures of every child entering the building. (It would have been nice if the local press could have left the kids alone).

So, Renee Deutsch, I think we do need to worry about the kids! And we need to protect them from the press!!!


Posted by Friend of PACT, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:45 am

Why do so many posters here jump up to support the PA Police and City Manager?
Anyone who has observed Pat or Mike would know they are not exactly techies, as far as seizing their home computers.
You should google the PA utility scandal, months were spent on investigating financial crimes and city overtime that resulted in nothing but some forced retirements. But perhaps that is the plan here.


Posted by candid, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:48 am

Yes and poor Britney Spears. She needs to be protected from the press too. Think of the emotional distress Ms. Spears must be going through right now.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:53 am

I'm with you on this one, Tim. Let the police do their job. They don't have to ask the public how to do an investigation.

Maybe this will lead to payroll audits across the board for the City... from the mayor on down. Hopefully anyway. :-/


Posted by Investigations-Take-Time, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

> Does anyone remember the PA Utilities scandal?

Yes.

> Because they caught one worker illegally parked in the
> afternoon they spent over 300000 investigating financial
> "crimes" and overtime from staff.

It appears that you don't remember "the Utilities Scandal".

> What exactly became of that investigation?

At the end, the Director, Assistant Director and 10% of the Utilities employees were either terminated, resigned or disciplined.

The City has worked hard to not publicize this probe, claiming "personnel rights" as a reason to not reveal the findings of the probe. However, they did reveal the 10% number.

It was a first class scandal.

> Why do so many posters here jump up to support the PA Police and City Manager?

While probably not the best police force money can buy, the PA Police has no track record of accusing people (or City employees) falsely of these sorts of crimes. Since the City Manager's Office (and the Police) have gone to the incredible extent of shutting down this operation to further their investigation, then they should be allowed to complete that investigation. The Police Chief claims that it is "very complicated". One can wonder how "complicated" equipment and money thefts from a small-time theater can be, but none-the-less, this investigation should be allowed to run its course.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Perhaps the children should consider doing some
Kafka stories for their theatrical productions-
such as The Trial- it's a very surreal story-
quite like the one this thread is about....


Posted by Jocelyn Dong, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 30, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Hi PACT Parent.

I wanted to take a minute to respond to your post on behalf of the Palo Alto Weekly.

The situation that is unfolding at the Children's Theatre has been unsettling for the community. But the news that the show would proceed has been considered by many as a positive sign that city staff and community members were able to pull together to benefit the kids. We believe that in reporting on this development in the story, we would be remiss not to talk with those positively affected -- the children who will be performing, as scheduled, this Friday.

I think the presence of reporters -- standing outside, hopeful of a comment or two -- had less to do with creating stress than did the theater's decision to lock the door, urge the children to run inside and treat the rehearsal like a clandestine operation. Our community would be better served when children's voices are heard and when they are taught to participate in, rather than fear, open discourse.

I'd agree with you that the police decision to close the theater, reportedly during rehearsal, probably was upsetting -- and far more so than some reporters standing outside the theater, hoping to talk with kids about the news that their show would go on.

Respectfully,


Posted by Neighbor II, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 4:03 pm

>A Judge would not issue a search warrant without good cause.

I agree here; I'm sure a judge would address this matter with some care and diligence.


Posted by Think about it, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 30, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Joceyln, thanks for posting, though that post sounds somewhat defensive and maybe appropriately so.

If you wanted to talk to kids, why not contact their parents and ask permission, and then talk in a controlled setting? You may view your reporters as a benign presence, serving the community - but your mission, after all, is to sell newspapers and advertising. I would definitely teach my kids to be wary of reporters asking pointed questions on controversial issues - adults call that "media training."

So you may be more of a threatening presence that you know. I would urge you not to blame the theater and the cops for the stress, and instead consider how you might have handled things differently.


Posted by Arnold, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 30, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Oh my goodness. I worked for CPA for so many years and I do know it is a complete disaster at the Children's Theater as fas as organization, but I would never never imagine this. I hope it is not true. If it is, now I know why they did not hire me when I tried to transfer there way back when. Also, if so, I wonder how long this has been going on? I sincerely would think all that are on admnistrative leave were very loyal employees. I hope it all works out that way.


Posted by jocelyn dong, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 30, 2008 at 5:49 pm

jocelyn dong is a registered user.

Hi Think about it. Thanks for your reply. To provide you with some facts on which to base this conversation, our reporter put out the word asking for comment from people involved with the production. She received one call, and so we sought more input.

If you or your children are involved in this play, you are more than welcome to call Becky at (650) 326-8210. If you feel she is asking you a "pointed" question, you may tell her, "Thank you for asking, but I do not feel comfortable answering that." That's what we consider proper "media training." :)

As to the mission of the Weekly, I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that one. But I think you already knew that.

Respectfully,


Posted by Wynn, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2008 at 9:16 pm

During the course of this story, I have been astounded by the comments of people who are willing to anonomously post strongly worded comments regardless of their ignorance of the facts.

To speak from personal experience, we spoke in detail about this situation with our son who is in the cast. This included asking him if he felt comfortable talking with reporters. I would hope that every other parent did the same. As Joselyn says, that is proper media training.

As he was willing to talk with a reporter, we contacted Becky. I also got a call from a Daily News reporter, who also spoke with my son at the theatre. In both cases the reporters treated my son and me respectfully, professionally and sensitively.

So many people here are so ready to jump to conclusions, point the finger and find someone to blame, whether it be the media, the police, the city council or city staff, or the PACT staff. This urge to vilify people, especially when done without full knowledge of the situation, and without being willing to sign your name, is an ugly trait.

The kids involved in this and other productions are learning that the community cares about them and the theatre. It is unfortunate that they are learning about this darker side of our community at the same time.


Posted by Voice of Reason, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2008 at 3:37 am

Last time I checked, the 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution guaranteed an "presumption of innocence" until proven guilty in a court of law. Accordingly, the PACT staff must be afforded this same presumption of innocence. If you were falsely accused yet innocent, wouldn't you deserve and expect the same?

I grew up in Palo Alto, attended elementary, middle and high school here and I've know the PACT staff for over 20 years now. I've participated in dozens of productions and, at times, worked at the theater as well. It's interesting how a lot of people like to throw around the word "values" these days, but few people will ever hold a match to all the good that Pat and Michael have contributed, over the years, to the community and families of Palo Alto. Tens of thousands of children have been directed and taught by the staff, and I know that I learned crucial life lessons, or values if you will, involving dedication, responsibility, perseverance and honesty in the process. Michael, Pat, Alison and Rich never needed to "talk" about these values. That would be trite. No, for years and years, they've quietly and consistently demonstrated these exact same traits and led by example.

Want to know a secret? The Palo Alto Children's Theatre is an incredibly special place. But the magic, which I swear is almost tangible, doesn't come from the stage, costumes, props or the sets. It comes from those people who have dedicated their lives to help raise your children and instill a love of theater in the process.


Posted by Business as Usual, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 31, 2008 at 8:04 am

I see it is business as usual in our city.
A vocal minority is upset about the Children's Theater investigation and they contact our mayor. Who then proceeds to huff and puff about the length of the investigation in order to placate them:
Web Link

Yo, Larry, this is a police matter and the city council has no say in the length of the investigation or are certain institutions in this city (i.e. those with vocal backers) above the law?

Let's wait and see what is the result of the investigation.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2008 at 8:40 am

Pact family.

Why only defended the THEATRE STAFF? WHY NOT ALL THE EMPLOYEE"S

Now it hits your home??Your friends.. Until then it was OK? I SEE!!!


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 31, 2008 at 10:40 am

Where there smoke, there is fire.

I would suggest to those on leave to tell the truth the whole truth. Don't put your greed ahead of the innocent children that are being hurt by your actions based on misplaced personal justification.

You know the authorities will find what they are looking for it is only a matter of time.

Better to come clean right now.



Posted by Tom, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 31, 2008 at 10:47 am

To "anonymous"

Is is so easy on the Town Square to be vicious and libelous and hide behind the cowardly cloack of anonymity. If you want to make accusations, then have the 'guts' to sign your name.


Posted by Another anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 10:48 am

Tom--and your full name is???????


Posted by Derek Wood, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:17 am

Am I the only one who is concerned about this detail:

"...Phil Plymale, president of the City of Palo Alto chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said Tuesday the homes of Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Box Office Assistant Richard Curtis -- all union members -- had been searched and computers were taken last week.

The employees, who were put on paid leave following the abrupt closure of the theater Jan. 24 due to a 'financial crimes' investigation, were also instructed to stop talking to Plymale, he said."

I'm no expert in Labor law, but nevertheless I would like to know exactly who is telling these four employees that they may not speak to their Union representative.

Also, Business as Usual said:

"A vocal minority is upset about the Children's Theater investigation and they contact our mayor. Who then proceeds to huff and puff about the length of the investigation in order to placate them..."

As earlier news articles have reported, Larry Klein has two sons who were extensively involved with the Children's Theater. I performed in several shows with one of them. I would suggest to you that Mr. Klein was speaking from his personal knowledge of the Children's Theater how it operates.

"Yo, Larry, this is a police matter and the city council has no say in the length of the investigation or are certain institutions in this city (i.e. those with vocal backers) above the law?"

Again, if you'd bothered to read other articles about these events - or even examined the one you linked to a little more closely - you see that nowhere has Mr. Klein claimed that he or the city council have *authority* over the investigation, nor indeed has he said that the investigation should not be carried out.

All he has done is express his own view that given the small scale of the Children's Theater operation he doesn't understand why an investigation into its bookkeeping should be dragging out for as long as it has. Although he is the Mayor, he is also a citizen of Palo Alto, and as such I do believe he has the right to express his views.


Posted by Don't-Believe-Everything-You-Hear, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:23 am

> I would suggest to you that Mr. Klein was speaking
> from his personal knowledge of the Children's Theater
> how it operates.

If this is true, Mr. Klein will have some explaining to do if/when the police outline the financial irregularities of this operation.


Posted by Business as Usual, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:28 am

Derek--the investigation has been going on for less than a week--how is that "dragging out for as long as it has"?
I stand by my comments previously regarding the Mayor and City Council's involvement into this investigation. Mr Klein needs to remember that, even though he has the right to express his opinion, as mayor he needs to be careful to not sound as if the City Council is trying to interfere in this investigation. While he may not have claimed that he or the city council have *authority* over the investigation, any comments and actions on his part can be construed as trying to influence the investigation. I suggest that he keep quiet until the investigation is complete.


Posted by Derek Wood, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:30 am

Oh, for pity's sake... you know what I meant. I didn't say Larry Klein has co-signed their financials or something. He's pointing out that it's not that big a piggy bank, so how many days do you need to turn it over and shake it?


Posted by not a theatre parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2008 at 12:01 pm

one has to wonder when public officials get overly involved, make statements because their own children are affected rather than letting the police investigation continue unfettered. Some publicity/news reporting is understandable, but statements by public officials with children who participate in the theatre will be taken with a grain of salt by the public.


Posted by Cindy Costell, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I am a former Friends of Children's Theatre board member, and parent of two sons whose
adult careers were profoundly influenced by their decade of work in the PACT.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] So many lives have been touched by Michael, Pat and others at the Theatre. Please, let's just all stop and keep Michael in our energy for a minute.
Thank you.


Posted by a Palo Alto parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2008 at 2:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Cindy, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2008 at 3:19 pm

PA parent, all apologies if I fwded something untrue. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] In any case, let's all hope for the best for Michael. Thanks for your comment.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2008 at 5:03 pm

It is interesting to read all the outraged parents' comments about the police action and secrecy.

The alleged crimes involve money. What if they had been about pornography? Or some other heinous crime? Then would they all scream about how the police should have waited until closing to move in and ask them to leave?

I think not!

Let the police do their jobs. If they do a bad job, we can go on with that discussion. If they do a good job, I bet not one of the "concerned parents" will come forward and praise them.

By the way, I am a mother, too!


Posted by Angie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 5:07 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by PACT parent, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 31, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Keep in mind that the media said the investigation has been going on for months since the burglary last July, not just a week.

Also many, many people seem to comment on this story. Some of us are actually trying to find out how our children will be affected in plays for the remainder of the years.

Unfortunately this story seems to have taken on a life of its own. People come here and gossip about the principals, PA government officials and argue sports v Arts. Since I have not read this forum previously, I did not know how ugly online commentary could become. Some of the nastiest posts seem to come from forum regulars (I checked your handles under other stories) who are not interested in the theater and just want to argue and gossip. Find some other meat to feed on you vultures.


Posted by Sparky, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Heh - PACT Parent, no one forces you to read, I think. Just ignore it if it bothers you.


Posted by jack, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2008 at 6:08 am

I no longer live in Palo Alto, but I would suggest that people concerned about the staff, esp. the one gentleman who I understand is ill, try to provide some support for them - emotional, getting an attorney or contributing to legal fees, taking over dinner, etc. instead of just venting here.


Posted by a Palo Alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2008 at 7:46 am

Jack, those things have been done and more. Everyone concerned can rest assured that the staff is not alone, and have a huge amount of support.


Posted by Shame On Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2008 at 9:17 pm

It's my humble belief that this evening at around 8:00pm a VERY VERY GREAT PERSON passed away == and there are those that work for our city this evening that should be deeply deeply ashamed for the hurt they caused this person in his final days....


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