News

'Officers believed tow-truck ruse was legal'

Palo Alto Police Department responds to judge's ruling dropping assault charges against Joseph Anthony Ciampi, 41

Palo Alto police officers believed their call-a-tow-truck ruse to get a homeless man out of his van last March 15 was legal, Agent Dan Ryan said Wednesday evening in response to a judge's ruling that it was illegal.

But Ryan said the police department accepts the ruling and "will use this case as a training subject for our officers in the coming weeks."

"The officers believed that their ruse was legal, and this opinion was shared by the District Attorney's office and the City Attorney's office, prior to the court proceedings," Ryan said in an e-mail statement to the Weekly.

"The court ruled today that the ruse was coercive, and therefore unlawful, so the case was dismissed. We accept that ruling. ..."

Ryan said the intention of the three officers involved was positive.

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"The officers were responding to the call (about) a suspicious person who was possibly living in a vehicle near a residence. He reportedly had scared the reporting party's wife and daughter(s), and made them feel uncomfortable by the way he watched them," Ryan recounted.

"The officers attempted the ruse in an effort to identify the subject in the van. They wanted to determine if he was truly a threat to the neighbors, or connected to any crime, so that they could report back to the citizen.

"They tried to balance the competing interests of both the reporting party and the occupant of the van, and were attempting to resolve the issue before simply leaving, without any resolution," Ryan said.

The three officers involved — Manuel Temores, Kelly Burger and Agent April Wagner — were unable to convince Ciampi to come out his van to talk with them until Temores pretended to make a radio call for a tow truck.

Ciampi then burst from the van and yelled at the officers, then went back inside and slammed the sliding side door shut, Temores and Burger testified.

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Wagner then opened the door, and Burger said he grabbed Ciampi's arm and pulled him out of his van. Burger testified that he feared for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers because he thought Ciampi might have gone back inside to arm himself.

But a fight ensued and Temores zapped Ciampi twice with a Taser before he gave up. He was charged with attacking an officer, one the charges dismissed on Wednesday. (See related story.)

-- Jay Thorwaldson

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'Officers believed tow-truck ruse was legal'

Palo Alto Police Department responds to judge's ruling dropping assault charges against Joseph Anthony Ciampi, 41

Uploaded: Wed, Dec 17, 2008, 11:43 pm
Updated: Fri, Dec 19, 2008, 9:05 am

Palo Alto police officers believed their call-a-tow-truck ruse to get a homeless man out of his van last March 15 was legal, Agent Dan Ryan said Wednesday evening in response to a judge's ruling that it was illegal.

But Ryan said the police department accepts the ruling and "will use this case as a training subject for our officers in the coming weeks."

"The officers believed that their ruse was legal, and this opinion was shared by the District Attorney's office and the City Attorney's office, prior to the court proceedings," Ryan said in an e-mail statement to the Weekly.

"The court ruled today that the ruse was coercive, and therefore unlawful, so the case was dismissed. We accept that ruling. ..."

Ryan said the intention of the three officers involved was positive.

"The officers were responding to the call (about) a suspicious person who was possibly living in a vehicle near a residence. He reportedly had scared the reporting party's wife and daughter(s), and made them feel uncomfortable by the way he watched them," Ryan recounted.

"The officers attempted the ruse in an effort to identify the subject in the van. They wanted to determine if he was truly a threat to the neighbors, or connected to any crime, so that they could report back to the citizen.

"They tried to balance the competing interests of both the reporting party and the occupant of the van, and were attempting to resolve the issue before simply leaving, without any resolution," Ryan said.

The three officers involved — Manuel Temores, Kelly Burger and Agent April Wagner — were unable to convince Ciampi to come out his van to talk with them until Temores pretended to make a radio call for a tow truck.

Ciampi then burst from the van and yelled at the officers, then went back inside and slammed the sliding side door shut, Temores and Burger testified.

Wagner then opened the door, and Burger said he grabbed Ciampi's arm and pulled him out of his van. Burger testified that he feared for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers because he thought Ciampi might have gone back inside to arm himself.

But a fight ensued and Temores zapped Ciampi twice with a Taser before he gave up. He was charged with attacking an officer, one the charges dismissed on Wednesday. (See related story.)

-- Jay Thorwaldson

Comments

By the rules or not at all
Charleston Meadows
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:10 am
By the rules or not at all, Charleston Meadows
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:10 am

If they were convinced that the ruse was legal, why did they:
1. try to use a technicality to avoid delivering video evidence to Ciampi's lawyer, despite knowing that they would need to deliver said evidence anyways
2. Provide video which couldn't be played
3. Provide video where even the DA's office wasn't able to obtain audio
4. Not provide taser video in response to initial requests
5. allegedly tamper with the taser videos when they did provide it

The actions of the PAPD strongly suggest that whatever officers believed at the time they employed the ruse, the PAPD has known that this was not an appropriate tactic for months.


Walter_E_Wallis
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:39 am
Walter_E_Wallis, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:39 am

An open invitation to cops just to phone it in. Concerned, you are a half century late with that comment. Racism is not a good career movement in law enforcement today, and adequate provisions for redress for misbehavior are available. Forget about reporting suspicious lurkers in residential neighborhoods, at the very least. The next time you get a ticket for a Hollywood Stop or for parking in the wrong direction, don't dare ask why the cop isn't catching the real crooks instead.
[copy of comment further down]
I still have no guidance as to when one can legally refuse to, when operating a motor vehicle, refuse a police officer's demand for identification. It looks like the "Big Rock Candy Mountain" hobo's dream is partially true in Palo Alto - "...the cops have wooden legs..." I'm sure that, for the K9s, they are working on bulldogs with rubber teeth.


Resident
Midtown
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:55 am
Resident, Midtown
on Dec 18, 2008 at 7:55 am

The residents of Palo Alto better watch out. If a car or camper with a person inside parks in front of your house overnight, in Palo Alto this is legal, so don't call the Police even if you don't like it.

We have had the Hopkins case and now the Ciampi case where Police have been called and these vehicle sleepers cannot be moved. You can only move vehicles once every 72 hours.

It is time our City Council passed similar laws to Menlo Park and Mountain View which prohibit sleeping in a vehicle on City streets.


CRESCENTPARKJORDANPALYGIRL
Mountain View
on Dec 18, 2008 at 3:34 pm
CRESCENTPARKJORDANPALYGIRL, Mountain View
on Dec 18, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Prohibiting sleeping in a car on the street is the best method for dealing with this issue that I've heard yet.

Palo Alto really gets a small amount of this type of occurence. These are hard times. There may be more of this rather than less. There are a lot of peole who don't feel safe in shelters, especially those who may be out of their homes and new to indigent life.

In SF there's a trained street team to approach those vehicles and get them moved and/or to services. I think that most people would feel better about calling a helpline of that sort rather than getting car campers arrested.

Remember - arrest record, no job, in some cases.

Ciampi's arrest is just a symptom of a greater ailment. PAPD could partner with homeless groups to provide that service. It would be less expensive than arrests and court hearings.

I'm grateful that I'm able to go inside to a warm house. Now that supposedly reputable (former SEC) investment gurus are running pyramids, even the most careful of us seem vulnerable.


JDHammer
Professorville
on Dec 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm
JDHammer, Professorville
on Dec 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Jay, Do you truly believe that the police officer believed they were acting legally by telling a citizen in a forceful way over and over that said person is violating a non-existant ordincance?


Ron & Pat Eadie
Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm
Ron & Pat Eadie, Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm

It is our understanding that the police officers only knew a neighbor, Mr Alsman, had called to complain of a suspicious vehicle parked by the side of his house. The three officers did did not know that the man's wife was uncomfortable with the van being there when they arrived at the scene. When the officers said they wanted to get Mr Ciampi out of his van to check if he was a sexual pervert this was not true. The officers did not find out about the neighbor's wife until they had returned to the Police Dept AFTER their encounter with Mr. Ciampi. It seems the PAPD and PR Officer Ryan are now trying to make excuses for the officers' inappropriate behavior. Although a supporter of the PAPD for all the 51 years we have lived in Palo Alto, we are disheartened to see Tony Ciampi's character defiled. For 15 years we have known him to be a very decent and honorable person.


Walter_E_Wallis
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 3:22 am
Walter_E_Wallis, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 19, 2008 at 3:22 am

Those people supporting Tony are invited to park him in their driveways. I do not want people camping out without sanitary facilities in residential neighborhoods - the dog poop is bad enough. I have long advocated a caravansary with minimum sanitary facilities as an appropriate facility for indigents and the thrifty. Perhaps it is time to reconsider vagrancy laws, work camps and the floater.


clean up the streets
Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2008 at 11:57 am
clean up the streets, Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2008 at 11:57 am

"It is time our City Council passed similar laws to Menlo Park and Mountain View which prohibit sleeping in a vehicle on City streets."

We need to go one step further and copy Menlo Park's "no vehicles parked on the street overnight" model.


CRESNTPARKJORDANPALYGIRL
Mountain View
on Dec 19, 2008 at 2:09 pm
CRESNTPARKJORDANPALYGIRL, Mountain View
on Dec 19, 2008 at 2:09 pm



CAR·A·VAN·SA·RY (kâr'ə-vân'sə-rç) Pronunciation Key
n. pl. car·a·van·sa·ries also car·a·van·se·rais

In both senses also called serai.

DEFINED AS:
An inn built around a large court for accommodating caravans along trade routes in central and western Asia.
A large inn or hostelry.


TwoSides
South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:14 pm
TwoSides, South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:14 pm

I have read many different sides on this thread written by people who claim to know Tony. I have read good, and I have read bad. Interestingly, the majority of the less postive evaluation of Tony's character by people who claim to know him is removed. The positive postings, stay. As you can see above written by Ron and Pat. I am sure that Ron and Pat know a side of Tony which is great. Others, know different sides. We all have those different persona's that make us up to be the whole person. No one can really know anyone wholly, or how they are around other people in different situations. I am not too impressed with what I read about Tony because instead of doing the right thing and parking where he has been invited, and letting others live in peace (win/win situation), he chose to dig in and stay regardless of how uncomfortable people may be. This does not paint Tony in a very good light.


By the rules or not at all
Charleston Meadows
on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:51 pm
By the rules or not at all, Charleston Meadows
on Dec 19, 2008 at 4:51 pm

TwoSides: While its difficult to know exactly what you're thinking of, nothing in this particular discussion has been removed. From what I can tell, the material that the Palo Alto Weekly has been removing from other recent discussions has largely been neo-nazi propaganda. The decision to exclude such material is an entirely reasonable decision on the part of the Weekly, and says absolutely nothing about Mr. Ciampi.


TwoSides
South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 5:11 pm
TwoSides, South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Sorry By the Rules you are totally incorrect. It is a TOS offense to post someone elses previous posts, but I have saved them on my computer. I know what they have been erasing and most of the commentary being deleted is what amounts to at the most mild critiscism of Tony and some of his behavior at times. One post, for example, was written by 'Antney'. He says he knows Tony and said that he didn't blame the police for what happened. that Tony is a good guy but has a tendancy to snap if the wrong nerve is hit and that if you don't know Tony, then you wouldn't know that's just how he is.

That is not neo-nazi propaganda. In fact, I am tired of the bullfeces term 'neo-nazi' consistently being applied to people who may have another point of view. Tony is not the only person with some rights. To say that would be....neo nazi.

In fact, Tony actually has more options than people living in fixed structures.


feeling unsafe
Ventura
on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:04 pm
feeling unsafe, Ventura
on Dec 19, 2008 at 9:04 pm

I live near Fry's and there are at least 3 if not 4 individuals living in their vehicles that park around my neighborhood all year-round. I don't know these people, but they are clearly mentally ill in some way or another (and I am professionally familiar with what mental illness looks like). Maybe some of you know them personally and want to vouch for them, but their behavior is very socially abnormal and for that reason alone, threatening.

Most of these vehicles are unsightly and extremely smelly if you have to walk past them. They SEEM harmless, however as a single woman living alone I feel very uncomfortable when they park near my home. I've even noticed one of these men staring in a not-so-normal way.

The locations where these guys end up parking over lengthy periods end up garbage strewn, stinky, and in some cases have clearly damaged the streets and sidewalks (creating depressions where waste water sits, etc) Although, from my understanding, the people of Palo Alto are fine with this as long as it stays out of their nicer areas of Palo Alto....

I think it's wonderful that people want to have empathy for others in not so great situations--I do too. However, I remember Jessica Smart and her abductor who everyone knew was slightly looney, but also was considered "harmless".

I agree with one of the earlier poster... if you feel so strongly that these people should be allowed to car-camp, why don't you invite them to live in your driveways and allow them to relieve themselves in your yards??

I REALLY wish that Palo Alto had an ordinance against sleeping overnight in a vehicle.


TwoSides
South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2008 at 1:46 am
TwoSides, South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2008 at 1:46 am

This has been a problem for many years Unsafe. When my daughter was little, we rented an apartment, ground floor in a small building over in College Terrace. One of the van dwellers lived outside right in front of our unit for about two months. It was awful. When I walked out of the door to take my child to school, (and we only had the one exit) he was watching us. Or as we passed we'd hear noises from within the van. Sometimes, in the afternoon, if we wanted to walk to the park, he followed us. He never approached us, but it was scary all the same. In the evening, he would be out there while we were living our life in our tiny apartment. We had to keep the curtains drawn because the windows were large and we looked like fish in an aquarium. With the curtains drawn all the time it was claustrophobic and depressing. The entire situation was very very disconcerting. It finally ended when we came home one winter evening, about 8 pm, and found the guy having seizures on my front stoop. This is before cell phones, I had to step over him to get into my house to call for medics...and before all you bleeding heart liberals chastise me for being a heartless she dog, let me tell you; to the left of the doorway was an empty bottle of cheap vodka and a bunch of empty beer bottles. So the medics came and did their thing, and the next morning we came out to find medical waste on our stoop, discarded needles, gloves etc, probably from the rescue effort. We called the City to come clean it up. I don't know what happened to the guy, I came home a few days later and found the van gone. It was quite a relief. That guy was scaring the hell out of us. I had to keep my little 3 year old in the house or if she wanted to play outside, we slipped out to the carport to DRIVE to a park. I know other people live close too, but generally they have homes and their own lives occupy them (hopefully). They do not sit and stare out of their windows all day into another residence. Even then, there is still more than a few feet, usually one has a whole street separating them from someone looking in. When it's a vehicle right outside your house, there isn't much else to look at. Small quarters, same old view inside the vehicle, life right outside the window. Someone else's life. Not cool.


dave
Downtown North
on Dec 24, 2008 at 5:41 pm
dave, Downtown North
on Dec 24, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Too many criticize police actions with insufficient information but a great deal of bias or prejudice. Ron and Pat have made statements that imply they have information that does not appear in any report I'm aware of. Have they talked to Mr. Alsman and asked him what he said when he made his complaint? Or have they reviewed the record of the call received in dispatch? Have they listened to the tapes of the conversations made at the scene?

When officers respond to a call and leave without ensuring the area is safe, he or she is not doing the job we pay them for. If this became a habit, it could invite visits from those who see a golden opportunity to exploit a perceived lack of police enforcement.


scotichic
Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm
scotichic, Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm

some of you people are so ridiculous... why were the charges dropped against this homeless man? he assulted officers doing their job. I live in san carlos and if a homeless bum was living in a nasty van in front of my house i would want to taze him myself! You can't blam the officers for anything-attacking an officer is against the law boo hoo homeless guy get a real job and a house like the rest of the world!


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