News

City Council has questions about mishandled 911 call

While voicing support for city manager, council members say they're still getting more details about the June 3 incident and subsequent policy changes

Palo Alto City Council members on Monday afternoon said that they still have questions about the police response to a June 3 911 call during which a resident with stroke-like symptoms was kept from receiving medical aid for 14 minutes, but at the same time the council members expressed faith in City Manager Ed Shikada to provide those answers to them.

Mayor Eric Filseth learned about the incident after a phone call from the woman's husband in July, he told the Weekly on Monday, Sept. 23. Filseth said he has had a number of conversations with Shikada and a couple of discussions with City Attorney Molly Stump. Most of those exchanges have focused on decisions made regarding the city's staging protocol.

"There are still a number of unanswered questions," Filseth said, such as "why there is not camera footage from the sergeant (Adrienne Moore)."

On Monday morning he viewed and listened to the body-camera audio and video of the other officer who handled the 911 incident, Officer Yolanda Franco-Clausen.

"Overall, it looks pretty much to me like the emergency responders (police) were trying to diagnose and respond" to the woman, he said, adding that he is not an expert on such matters.

The woman and her husband claim that police overstepped their role on June 3 by trying to assess the woman's condition rather than determining that she posed no harm to the paramedics who were standing by, ready to treat her.

Filseth said he expects an update from Shikada and called the matter "an operational issue." The council's role is to review the policies and procedures and the update from Shikada, and to see if the city staff did what they were supposed to do, he said.

Councilwoman Lydia Kou voiced concern that the council as a whole was not informed about the incident, which she learned about through residents' letters to the council this weekend.

"I have heard very little from staff," she said, during a Monday phone call.

Information about the incident should have come from staff and not from the community, she added. When incidents like this happen, residents are going to look to the council for answers, she added.

After learning about it, Kou said she asked Shikada for details, and he provided her with a summary. Discussions are apparently still ongoing, she said. Kou is scheduling a time with Shikada to look at some of the police video recordings, she said.

The council should have a more direct role in refining some of the policies pertaining to the handling of emergencies like this one, she said.

"Definitely, some procedures should come from the council and be included. There definitely needs to be some direction from the council," she said.

Councilman Tom Dubois said he was first apprised of the situation by the woman's husband. But while he knows the husband's version of the incident, he said he doesn't know the full story from the police and dispatchers.

The city operates under certain constraints related to privacy and legal concerns, he said, regarding Shikada's refusal to allow staff to answer questions by the Weekly. (As for the woman's privacy, she had provided permission to Shikada to discuss her case with the Weekly, however.)

DuBois also said that what the Weekly stated in its Sept. 20 story on the incident regarding the city's lack of responsiveness to its questions differed from the impression he received from Shikada. Dubois said the city manager had indicated to him that he "spoke" with the Weekly.

Filseth noted that Shikada had sent a summary of some of the changes the city's made since the June 3 call to the Weekly in a statement in early September. Part of that statement was published in the Sept. 20 story.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack declined to say in detail what steps she felt the council should take, beyond allowing the city manager to present updates. She also declined to say when staff had apprised her of the incident.

In a brief statement by phone on Monday, she said: "The city manager has carefully reviewed the incident and some changes have already been made to the way our first responders do their work. He will keep the council updated."

At Monday's council meeting, Shikada said that since the June incident, staff has undergone additional training and revised the city's "staging practice," which requires fire crews to wait until police assess the situation before they provide medical services. The staging in the June 3 incident delayed the woman's treatment.

Shikada called the staging practice "an unfortunate byproduct of today's public safety environment where police and fire encounter unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations."

"The city is adjusting its practice to more effectively ensure the approach addresses its goals, and this review is continuing," Shikada said. "Since June, the city has provided additional training for staff, and revised the city staging practice and other protocols to improve our public safety response."

He also said in a statement that was posted on the city's website Monday that the reinforced policy and training only requires staging "when there is clear indication of the risk of harm to city personnel."

"For incidents where emergency dispatch knows or reasonably suspects that violence has occurred, or the potential exists, the call will be dispatched with instructions to both the Police and Fire departments to 'proceed with caution,'" the statement reads.

Dubois said he thinks the city took the issues raised seriously.

"Of course, the council has a role in oversight. ... I think the council should review protocols making sure that people are properly trained," he said.

Council members Liz Kniss, Greg Tanaka and Adrian Fine did not return requests for comment.

Related content:

A tug of war: City keeps changing its mind over releasing information about the June 3 incident

The 12 questions the city won't answer

TIMELINE: The 911 call: What happened when

Editorial: When local government leaders refuse to answer questions, they become their own worst enemies

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Comments

49 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 24, 2019 at 11:09 am

Thank you Sue Dremann for great coverage of this incident.

Is is extremely disappointing to say the very least, that three of our Council members Kniss, Fine and Tanaka did not feel it was their duty to "return requests for comments".

That an elected official would duck the press in this manner especially given the alleged lack of communication from the city manager and staff regarding this incident, is a very poor decision.....not leaders!


46 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 24, 2019 at 11:19 am

Cormack "declined to say" when she heard and what Council should do? Her arrogance toward the community comes out in almost every interaction.

How about the City Manager keeps the *community* (not individual PACC members) updated in terms of changes they are making? This 'circle the wagons' instinct didn't serve the school district well (they now seem over it); it won't serve the city well either.


28 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 24, 2019 at 12:21 pm

So , Now a Heart Attack victim has to wait for the Police to complete an investigation before "emergency " transport to the hospital. Outrageous!


32 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 24, 2019 at 12:50 pm

"Is is extremely disappointing to say the very least, that three of our Council members Kniss, Fine and Tanaka did not feel it was their duty to "return requests for comments"."

Indeed. Incredibly arrogant but standard practice for them as the city's satisfaction ratings keep tanking while hey keep ignoring those pesky residents' complaints about little things like traffic, gridlock, rising utility rates, unfunded pension liabilities, unwanted spending on road furniture, under-parked new developments, office construction moratoria, etc. etc.

Nope, no traffic problems here. "Car-light" fantasies to justify under-parked new construction that maximize their developer backers' profits-- until they stick US with a $9,000,000 for car chargers on private property.

Remember who rushed through the City Manager's appointment without considering other candidates and who granted him an extra year's salary if he were to be fired -- as if we're not facing soaring UNFUNDED pension liabilities for the highest paid municipal employees in the state.

Good for Filseth, Kuo and DuBois for responding and shame on the others for their mind-boggling arrogance.


16 people like this
Posted by quidproqou
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2019 at 1:15 pm

quidproqou is a registered user.

It’s very concerning that a Sergeant such as Adrienne Moore would not have bodycam video. It’s especially suspicious since she gave the order to Clausen to turn her bodycam on, and is well versed in all PAPD guidelines regarding the use of video in all police interactions.

I hope Moore is held to accountable by the City Council given her many mistakes on June 3rd. I don’t think a demotion to officer would be out of the range of consideration.

Sweeping this under the rug damages the City’s reputation and under cuts the trust of it’s many residents.


28 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Yep, the gang of four: Tanaka, Fine, Kniss and Cormack can't even be bothered to say there are legal restraints preventing them from saying too much. They are always right there when it comes to voting for this town to be crowded into a small NYC at the bidding of their developer contributions. But someone almost dying...can't be bothered.


26 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2019 at 3:02 pm

I'll be blunt. Fire everyone who screwed up and if the city council can't be bothered to respond to the community, vote them out. People need to take their jobs seriously, and do their job correctly. No excuses.


15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 24, 2019 at 3:59 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

..Is is extremely disappointing to say the very least, that three of our Council members Kniss, Fine and Tanaka did not feel it was their duty to "return requests for comments"..

They are on the council to represented real estate developers and commercial interests. [Portion removed.]


16 people like this
Posted by Profiles in mediocrity
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 24, 2019 at 4:27 pm

Mayor Filseth: "Overall, it looks pretty much to me like the emergency responders (police) were trying to diagnose and respond" to the woman, he said, adding that he is not an expert on such matters." But the story shows that the police spent five minutes quizzing the woman about whether she was drunk or needed a psychiatrist while the actual medical responders stood by watching her have a seizure. I'm not an "expert on such matters" but I hope that Filseth will at least employ common sense.

Tom Dubois: "Councilman Tom Dubois said he was first apprised of the situation by the woman's husband. But while he knows the husband's version of the incident, he said he doesn't know the full story from the police and dispatchers." When did he learn the story from the husband? What has he done since to find out the "full story from the police and dispatchers"? I hope that Dubois will at least exercise an ordinary level of curiosity.

Alison Cormack: "Councilwoman Alison Cormack declined to say in detail what steps she felt the council should take, beyond allowing the city manager to present updates. She also declined to say when staff had apprised her of the incident." The incredible disappearing Council member. I hope that Cormack has some dim memory of who elected her and why. Spoiler alert: it wasn't the City staff.

And finally, the ringmaster himself, Ed Shikada: "Shikada called the staging practice "an unfortunate byproduct of today's public safety environment where police and fire encounter unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations."
This is a funny way to describe systematic violations of city policy. If anything, it validates the policy violations and assures that they'll continue.

With these leaders, who can expect that this will be faced squarely, transparently, and effectively?


8 people like this
Posted by Kristin
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2019 at 4:57 pm

"The woman and her husband claim that police overstepped their role on June 3 by trying to assess the woman's condition" Guess what? This will happen again. This is the new Community Policing initiative. "Empowering" police officers, aka "problem solving". In the good old days, when police were simply Law Enforcement, they left the "problem solving" such as medical issues up to Fire (or as we know it, EMTs. Things have changed.


30 people like this
Posted by Barry
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 24, 2019 at 8:41 pm

Everybody is focusing on the initial staging delay of he medics in order to avoid the more egregious offenses which demonstrate the culpability.

First and foremost as the medics were loading the woman into the ambulance the two officers were still asserting the woman was having a psychological issue even though she was suffering from brain tumor.

Two, Ofc. Clausen conducted an illegal search of the home and personal belongings of he woman and did so when there was no evidence that the woman had violated any ordinance or law.

Three, Ofc. Clausen violated the ethical code of peace officers by divulging the private information of the victim to others.

Four, City Attorney Moll stump stated Sgt. Moore's video existed. And then later said it did not. Detective 101, when he subject changes his/her story the subject is lying to cover up.


Five, the pd and city staff are not being open, honest and transparent by clearly stating why there is no video or GPS of Sgt. Moore's vehicle. That's like Donald Trump withholding information from congress. The City council and all of Palo Alto would have Trump impeached, removed, from office for withholding information the people who have a right to know.

So why is the City Council not demanding that Ed Shikada, Molly Stump and Chief Jonsen resign? The council has the authority to do by the way for these officers serve at the pleasure of the council and can terminate employment for any reason at any time.







11 people like this
Posted by Anonity
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2019 at 10:29 pm

Looks like the PA city council members, the city manager, the city attorney, the police department, maybe even the fire department aren't always reliable or can be counted on by people in this city. Sounds like excuses are Plan A. Did Trump just move into Palo Alto? Same tactics.


13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 25, 2019 at 12:30 am

"Two, Ofc. Clausen conducted an illegal search of the home and personal belongings of he woman and did so when there was no evidence that the woman had violated any ordinance or law."

Absolutely outrageous AND illegal. This warrants a complete investigation and appropriate disciplinary action if it's an isolated incident. If this is standard practice, it must be changed.

Again, comments from the city manager and city council are in order.


7 people like this
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2019 at 1:24 am

"Shikada called the staging practice "an unfortunate byproduct of today's public safety environment where police and fire encounter unpredictable and potentially dangerous situations.""

If that's so, then it's doubly important for this incident to trigger a look at longstanding biases against women that give rise to kneejerk questioning a woman's mental health in so many arenas of our culture, especially medical and emergency response situations and especially older women.

There were a lot of mental health ambulance calls to our local schools over the past several years -- did the police and emergency responders cause these kinds of delays to our schools?

Is this "byproduct" warranted, or is it simply creating dangers for the public without in any way improving safety for first responders?


14 people like this
Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2019 at 1:46 pm

When this story was first reported, I posted a note about how a bungled emergency call for help by my daughter to a Lexington, Massachusetts number (911 was not in effect in Lexington at the time)resulted in her untimely death. A subsequent investigation by an attorney commissioned by the city found several failures in the system from an untrained responder, faulty senior management, multiple communicatioin systems that couldn't communicate with one another. I was living in Palo Alto at the time and spoke to the person who managed PA's 911 system because I was struck by how badly a system had failed. He was kind enough to letme see our system in operation including allowing my wife to call in and to see how fast the police could respond. I wrote a letter to the Lexington newspaper explaining how our system worked and how expensive it was to maintain such a system, but that I would rather have Palo Alto than Lexington if I needed help.

I write this not in anger, but only to reinforce what I felt in 1994 and now. A system designed to help people when it is needed should not fail. I think that police and fire personnel, anyone who who does the work they do, have the toughest jobs possible. They need the best training, equipment, and management that the City can provide, a City that doesn't waffle but takes the issue head on. Whatever it takes.


7 people like this
Posted by Another woman....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2019 at 5:50 pm

I so, so agree with you Ray.

Criticism of this incident is not the same as sweeping criticism of emergency personnel. But we cannot keep a first-rate system if there are people in it whose first reaction is CYA rather than learning from a mistake and trying to improve.

I think any reaction to this incident that smacks of CYA needs to result in people being removed from any departments involved in public safety and possibly from service in Palo Alto. People who dig in on mistakes rather than using them to make things better are why we end up with disasters, which are usually cascades of mistakes.


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Regarding the incident where the resident was suffering from a seizure and medical assistance was delayed due to misguided communications and directions, the law enforcement leadership should simply learn from the situation, admit mistakes were made and reach a settlement with the resident. Remaining defensive gives the appearance of concealing some type of wrongdoing. Law enforcement and all first responders face many difficulties in assessing any emergency situation.
The person involved in a 911 call could have criminal, psychological, emotional, age-related issues or simply a serious health condition that needs immediate attention. The dispatcher and police response errors were not intentional, but additional training and knowledge can help them in making the distinction between a psychiatric and a medical emergency. Persons suffering from dementia can display similar behavior as the resident in this situation, but usually a person with dementia does not request to be taken to the hospital. A person with dementia usually wants to be left alone and often informs all first responders that he or she is ok and does not need help. This one factor would have made a dramatic impact on the type of action by the dispatcher and police. Rather than delay the medical assistance that was necessary, the resident would have received the tests more promptly. Fortunately, the resident did receive proper treatment, including surgery, but the situation could have ended tragically due to the delay in care. I understand the city and police are always concerned with liability. Like personal trials, government trials can be costly and it is usually better to settle than to take the risk of losing much more if the jury reaches an unfavorable decision.


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