Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada has ordered city staff not to answer questions or make comments on the mishandled June 3 emergency medical call by a Palo Alto resident, an unusual departure from the city's typical interactions with the media.
Shikada initially denied the Palo Alto Weekly's request to interview him, police Chief Bob Jonsen and fire Chief Geo Blackshire and asked for all questions to be submitted in writing. That practice, which most media organizations discourage, precludes follow-up and clarifying questions that are usually necessary to obtain accurate information.
Then on Aug. 22, the Weekly was notified by email that Shikada had decided the city would not have any comment on the case.
Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson met with Shikada and City Attorney Molly Stump on Aug. 26 to try and negotiate in-person interviews, and Shikada agreed. But three days later, he emailed the Weekly saying he had changed his mind and would only be issuing a statement. He offered to take written questions instead.
"Based on the complexity of the issues involved, we've decided it best to give you a written statement; we'll send it over early next week. In addition, as indicated earlier we'd be happy to respond to questions in writing," Shikada wrote.
On Sept. 4, Shikada provided the statement. It said that staff had determined that the handling of the June 3 call justified "reinforcing" existing department policies and additional staff training. He said the city has conducted additional training for the emergency call dispatch unit, clarified its policy and trained personnel to ensure that the police and fire departments are dispatched to emergency events with the same priority response, reinforced its policy and trained personnel to only require staging by the fire department when there is clear indication of the risk of harm to city personnel.
The Weekly sent a list of specific questions to Shikada, Jonsen and Blackshire on Sept. 5 with a request for a response by Sept. 9.
On Sept. 9, however, the city's new chief communications officer, Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, emailed the Weekly saying the city would not be answering any questions or making further comments.
The woman who was the subject of the 911 call and her husband have been locked in a similar stalemate with the city attorney's office. The husband sent multiple California Public Records Act requests to the police department as early as June 11 seeking the incident log, police report and copies of the 911 recording, patrol car and body-worn camera footage from the two responding police officers, and other records and policies.
The city told the couple it was withholding the recordings under an investigatory exemption of the Public Records Act. The husband said he responded during a July 8 meeting with Jonsen and Shikada that the exemption didn't apply since no crime had been committed and there wasn't any investigation.
Shikada told him the city's policy is not to provide records unless required to under the Public Records Act. He didn't intend to make an exception in this case, the husband recalled. When pressed, Shikada said he was following the advice of the city attorney's office.
The city eventually reversed itself and released much of the requested materials to the woman and her husband after they engaged an attorney.
"The city violated the California Public Records Act until we sent a letter from our lawyer that walked through the statutory (regulations). They had a strategy of stall, delay and violate the PRA unless they were forced to comply," the husband said.
The city supplied the couple with Officer Yolanda Franco-Clausen's body-worn camera and vehicle recordings and, eventually, her GPS location data, but it hasn't provided anything from Sgt. Adrienne Moore. The city is now claiming, according to letters sent to the attorney representing the couple, that it has no body cam or car camera footage for the sergeant, nor GPS data that shows her activity that day. It has refused to disclose whether such data had ever existed and if it had been deleted or destroyed. Staff also allege there was no radio, text or other communication between Clausen and Moore.
This is part of a larger story on the mishandling of a June 3 911 call that can be found here.