Palo Alto Officer Exonerated

Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 at 12:00PM

By Alison Berry Wilkinson
Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson LLP

When representing peace officers accused of criminal misconduct, sometimes taking the most conservative route, while may be the easiest course of action, is not always the best. This case is an example of setting aside the risks associated with providing a voluntary criminal statement resulted in the officer being fully exonerated of criminal wrongdoing.

This tragic case could happen to anyone. It all started when Palo Alto Police Officer Brad Kilpatrick saw a 14-year-old juvenile skateboarding without a helmet and issued him a ticket, plus a warning that he would be ticketed again if he was seen doing it again.

Several weeks later, the juvenile was walking to school, this time carrying his skateboard under his arm. When he saw Kilpatrick, the juvenile (who was not wearing a helmet) dropped the skateboard to the ground and jumped on. Kilpatrick issued the juvenile another ticket. After all, Kilpatrick’s assigned duty was traffic enforcement in front of several schools.

Out of this relatively benign and routine contact, Kilpatrick became the center of a storm of controversy, with newspaper articles decrying his “abuse” of the juvenile, because the juvenile’s mother’s fiancé publicly accused Kilpatrick of using excessive force by “shaking” the boy before “throwing him to the ground”.

In reality, the only force used by Kilpatrick was to hold the juveniles arm while escorting him to the curb before issuing the ticket.

The hue and cry raised by the juvenile’s mother’s fiancé (a notorious anti-police civil rights attorney and former public defender), forced the district attorney’s office to open a criminal investigation. But despite his very public accusations, the fiancé would not allow the criminal or administrative investigators to interview the juvenile.

Without the alleged victim’s statement, the criminal case could not be charged. But the damage was done to Kilpatrick’s reputation with the accusations, and the public flogging would only continue unless a full exoneration of the officer’s conduct was made. So, while it would have been more prudent to have Kilpatrick decline to make a voluntary statement and have the district attorney’s office refuse to charge because insufficient evidence existed, after a full examination of the risks and benefits, the decision was made to cooperate in the criminal investigation. The decision was not without risk, as there were 17 witnesses interviewed, six of which were videotaped statements provided by the fiancé to the district attorney’s office.

Kilpatrick’s cooperation, coupled with the information revealed in the witness statements gathered by the criminal investigators, resulted in a full exoneration of Kilpatrick. Indeed, the district attorney’s office concluded that there was “no credible evidence that Kilpatrick committed a crime” and found that it “was reasonable for him to forcibly hold the juvenile’s arm during the detention.”

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.