Menlo Park: Fatal shooting by police officers may not have been recorded


Only two of three Menlo Park police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect on Nov. 11 were wearing body cameras. One camera may have been turned on after the shooting, and one may have been left off, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. The investigation is ongoing and evidence analysis is not yet complete.

The shooting occurred on Willow Road, near Willow Place, in Menlo Park.

Only two cameras have been submitted to the DA's office, which is conducting a standard review of the shooting. The third officer's camera had been turned in for repairs, so he was not wearing one, the district attorney said.

The police department identified the officers last week as Sgt. Jaime Romero and officers Scott Mackdanz and Nicholas Douglas. All three are on paid leave, as is department policy, Police Chief Bob Jonsen said. Romero has been an officer for 18 years, Mackdanz for 16, and Douglas for 11.

The attorney representing Romero said his camera was turned on at some point, but that he didn't know what was on it. "I haven't had the chance to review the footage," Alison Berry Wilkinson said.

The three officers were involved in a foot chase along Willow Road after an employee reported spotting a suspected burglar near 64 Willow Place. Jerry Lee Matheny, 52, of Riverside County, fled as police arrived. According to the report, he pulled a handgun and pointed it at the officers after they attempted to stop the pursuit with a Taser. Romero told his attorney that he heard a shot and then returned fire.

All three officers fired their guns, Wagstaffe said. The crime lab has not yet determined whether Matheny had shot at them. The district attorney said his office will not be releasing further details until the investigation is concluded in four to six weeks.

At the time of the shooting, Matheny was wanted by the state for parole violation related to drug charges, and also had two counts of felony commercial burglary and one count of identity theft pending in San Mateo County.

The Menlo Park police department declined to state whether anyone had reviewed the camera footage before turning it over, and referred all questions to the District Attorney's Office.

The department began using body cameras, which must be activated manually, in late 2013. Department policy requires that all on-duty contact with citizens be recorded, but does allow exemptions for urgent, dangerous situations where the officer's safety is jeopardized.

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3 people like this
Posted by Menlo-Police-Needs-Audit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2014 at 11:52 am

All press reports so far suggest that this officer-involved shooting which resulted in the death of a wanted robbery suspect was necessary to protect the life of at least one of the officers. As with most shootings, we’ll have to wait for the final report to really know what happened.

But this issue of the personal cameras which were supposed to be worn by duty officers not being on during the incident, or not being even worn, is something that the residents of Menlo Park should be concerned about. The whole purpose for buying these cameras—which is to better document what goes on during police/public interactions—seems to be undermined by these three officers, and possibly the department as a whole.

The idea that police officers are somehow people who can live above the law is increasingly obvious from the daily reports of police killings not only of people, but of animals—often resulting from their entering homes of innocent people who happen to live near someone who is a person of interest to them. These cameras are supposed to be a technological augmentation to their tool kit which provides a meaningful record of what really happened at times like these.

Failing to turn on these devices should be a violation of police policy/standing orders, and should result in some sort of disciplinary action. And when a camera is not working, why aren’t there a number of backup units that can be checked out by the officer before going out in public?

The officers in this case clearly were in harm’s way. But their actions also put the public in harm’s way—when it comes to their properly operating in public, for the public. And given the recent history of the “naked cop” that managed to avoid prosecution and retained his cushy job—it’s painfully clear that there are management problems inside the MP Police Department. It’s just a little strange that the “naked cop” wasn’t an issue in the recent MP Council elections. But then again—maybe no one in Menlo Park really cares much about having a police department that is above reproach.

4 people like this
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Bru is a registered user.

>> But this issue of the personal cameras which were supposed to be worn by duty officers not being on during the incident, or not being even worn, is something that the residents of Menlo Park should be concerned about.

Totally agree with that. We pay officers enough that if they are no comfortable with their own performance under surveillance, they need to find another job. The mindset of some Police officers seems to be imposing authority and power, and we need some way to audit these people on the job to see if they are really fit for police work.

Give them a camera that has a fake on/off button and see when they and why they turn the cameras off and on. I have no patience with incompetent police officers at the salaries and benefits we give to these public servants.

1 person likes this
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 12:29 am

Police paid $65,000 for 40 cameras, according to the Post. For this amount, you would think they would be in working order. For much, much less in capital costs, every officer could have taped an iPhone to his/her chest with real-time upload 24/7, with spares in case of breakage. Why do our government agencies always spend our money like it's Monopoly money?

2 people like this
Posted by Another Ferguson
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

People in Ferguson, Missouri, are screaming for their police force to wear these little cameras, saying Michael Brown would never have been shot has Daarren Wilson worn one.

Baloney! He could have turned it off at any time, or never even have turned it on in the first place. Or even forgotten to turn it on in the heat of the moment.

What good are these things, and what a waste of money, if operation is left up to the wearer? They should be on at ALL times ( unless the officer has ESP and can predict when he will need it to be running).

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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