Mountain View Voice

News - September 18, 2009

Police draw ire for public drunkenness arrests

by Daniel DeBolt

Police and a handful of local residents hold divergent opinions about what happened late last Friday after officers responded to a noise complaint at 242 Bush Street and wound up arresting three people.

Spokesperson Liz Wylie says the visit by police was routine, and that the arrests were necessary for officers to maintain control of the situation. But those who attended the gathering of about 20 people around a fire pit in the driveway of their apartment complex say it appeared to be "pre-planned" when about 10 officers "swooped in" and arrested three people without much discussion or warning.

The incident occurred just before midnight on Friday, Sept. 11, when the friends, most of whom live there in the small complex, were having some beers and talking — not too loudly, they say. That's when a group of officers arrived, looking like a "Roman phalanx, a wall of armed guards" in the words of Thomas Lear, who claims he didn't say anything to police before being taken away.

Wylie said arrestees were taken in because they had not complied with orders to sit down.

"If you are trying to impede our work then, yeah, we stop being super-polite," she said. "We've got to gain control of the situation."

Three people were arrested for public drunkenness but not charged: Lear, 36, and Galen Wolf, 29, both of Mountain View; and Pooya Shai, 29, of San Jose. Though the three spent the night in jail, none was officially charged with being drunk in public. Wylie said that's standard police practice for non-repeat offenders.

The complex is largely occupied by friends and members of a heavy metal band called Raising the Dead, and is used for occasional parties and band practice every Friday night. Though their activities and appearance are unusual, resident Owen Johnston said, he and his friends have earned the respect of their neighbors by keeping their complex clean and ending band practice every Friday at 10 p.m. Johnston said neighbors had not called police about noise problems for two years.

Unlike a similar incident with Mountain View police last summer at 122 East Middlefield Road, which led to allegations of police brutality, police had not repeatedly warned partygoers to keep the noise down throughout the evening. This was their first visit to the group on Bush Street.

Ellen Wheeler, a school board member and lawyer, is Johnston's mother. She met with several witnesses last week and e-mailed some comments to the Voice.

"My son and his friends may look unconventional to the police, but I know them to be good people, with good jobs, good educations and good hearts," she wrote. Wheeler added that she hoped this would lead to a "teachable moment" for all involved.

Two perspectives

Upon arrival, Wylie said, police found "approximately 20 people outside the front drinking and talking loudly. Officers asked them to sit down and asked them why they were there. Two subjects didn't comply and began shouting obscenities at officers, refusing to be quiet," she said.

"One of them basically began using the F-word, began screaming and refused to provide identification. One jumped into an officer's face."

Basically, she said, those people were being "uncooperative and belligerent" while everyone else was cooperative.

In separate interviews, Shahi and Lear said there was no shouting before or during the first two arrests and that everyone spoke calmly.

"After the arrests, yeah, maybe they were angry," said Shahi. "Before the arrests, no."

"The way they came in, they were not there to talk," he said. "They were there to arrest us."

Shahi said he was taken aside by police 20 seconds after returning to the party to ask questions about why officers were there out of "genuine concern" for his friends. "I was pretty much arrested immediately," Shahi said. "I guess I didn't move as fast as they were telling me to move."

According to police procedure, "We ask them to sit down so we can have some control over the situation," Wylie said. Police then make sure that someone present at the gathering actually lives there. Then police ask them to move the party inside. It usually works, she said.

"But if people right off the bat refuse a simple command like 'sit down' we stop asking them to listen and we begin ordering them to listen. We have to keep control of the situation for people's safety," Wylie said.

Drunk tank

The "public drunkenness" charge puzzled Shahi and other partygoers who thought they were safe to drink on private property.

Wylie said the charge applies to any space accessible to the public, which includes private driveways and front yards. The charge also applies to a certain behavior, not a specific blood alcohol content level, she said.

"You have to be so intoxicated you have to be incapable of caring for yourself" or "are making poor decisions for yourself," Wylie said.

"I had four beers in a matter of three hours," Shahi said. "I was pretty sober in the drunk tank, I'll tell you that." He added that police refused his requests for a breathalyzer test.

Lear, Shahi and Johnston all said they were disappointed with the general conduct of the police officers, which they thought was unprofessional. For example, all three reporting hearing an officer humming Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." They said it appeared that "rookies" in white uniforms — actually community service officers — were taking notes and learning "bad behavior" from the other officers, one of whom, they said, referred to the group of friends as "crazy" as police arrived.

Wheeler suggested that police and those who were at the party sit down, talk and learn from it.

"It's important to look outside ourselves to see that we are all the same and then we can look inside ourselves to treat each other the same," Wheeler said. "This is what I'd like to happen as a result of this police incident."

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by anonymous, a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I have witnessed the Mountain View police harass people without just cause on several occasions. They make up their own rules as they go. They do not go by the book. There must be some kind of merit or status received for making an arrest because they will really reach far to make one whether it's justified or not. What happened that night fits their m.o. totally!!

Posted by Robin Iwai, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 18, 2009 at 11:37 pm

dear anonymous,

As a graduate of the MVPD Citizen Police Academy, I beg to differ with your opinion (which you are of course entitled to) and would hope that you sign up for a free "ride-along" with a patrol officer so you can get a first hand look, from another point of view, at how our police department operates.

Posted by Michael Hunt, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 19, 2009 at 9:34 am

Thanks for quoting our President Mrs. Wheeler when you said this should be a "teachable moment." But unlike our President would suggest--the MVPD and those drunken partygoers are not going to meet and have a beer--or more beers, in the case of the drunk partygoers.

The teachable moment shall come from learning to respect other neighbors on Bush street. Check out Penal Code 415 for more details on disturbing the peace. Another teachable moment will come from learning about Penal Code 647(f) for Public Intoxication.

Yes, police usually issue warnings for first visits, like the majority of the partygoers received on Bush street that night, since the police did not arrest everyone present at the party. The police do NOT issue warnings to those who refuse to comply with lawful orders and are in violation of the above listed Penal Codes. If those three partygoers can 't behave when the police are present, do you think they're going to behave after the police "warn" them and leave? Please....

The fact is that the vast majority of people who are arrested for public intoxication are not band members, so don't think they were piked on just because they were, "Raising the Dead."

Posted by Carol Smith, a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 19, 2009 at 9:54 am

Something to think about.....How many drunk people have you seen who become more obnoxious or aggressive than they are when they are sober? How many people have you seen that, when in trouble, twist the situation to a perspective that better benefits them. And finally, who doesn't minimize the truth when explaining bad behavior to their mother (Ellen)?

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 19, 2009 at 10:11 am

Funny how the MVPD are never around the Monte Carlo when the drunks there raise hell on Castro Street.

Posted by Downtown resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 19, 2009 at 8:07 pm

While I enjoy all the commotion in downtown, but some drunk people sometimes get too noisy and unlawful specially after bars close and they take their parties to parking lots - which of course is illegal.

Read the comment by Carol above. I totally agree with her. When MVPD asks noisy people to disperse and they do not comply, what do you expect? MVDP should let them keep partying and so let things to get beyond control? If you have any doubts about the behavior of MVPD, just give it a shot in downtown San Jose.

Posted by Kelly Pickler, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2009 at 8:56 am

You are mistaken about police presence at the Monte Carlo "Old Ben." The police haunt that place, especially around closing time to disperse the loitering patrons, and prevent skirmishes. If you are still skeptical you can go to the MVPD and request the arrest stats for that location. I did this for a school project once and the MVPD was helpful in obtaining the statistics for my report.

Posted by Max, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 20, 2009 at 8:06 pm

When cop order you to kiss you ass and you'll refuse, will he arrest you, too?

With ultimate disrespect to uniformed blackguards, Max.

Posted by Max, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 20, 2009 at 8:07 pm

P.S. Previous comment was about cops who bark "sit!" at you.

Posted by chibi, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2009 at 9:45 pm

But they are no where near as abusive as the San Jose Police department! Especially the bitter, troubled ones that sit in the little cubby hole across from the E.R. at San Jose Regional; dangerously, in a position too big for his little pea brain. Obviously hates his job and people. God help him.

Posted by Daniele, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 2:09 am

So much bickering,

Respect police officer, they are here to protect and serve, if a bunch of drunk people was disturbing you, you would be glad to have an officer to help you. It is hard to punish everyone, but the select few that are more disruptive should be punished.
When I am drunk, I follow instruction, and go home quietly walking. People need to get a hold of their limit and behave when needs be.

If you get arrested you most likely deserve it.

Posted by Owen Johnston, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 10:10 am

No one is arguing about the arrests. We are just trying to let "people" know that the police statements aren't quite the truth. If you are okay with police saying what they need to, and not the truth, then I don't know what to say. If you do want the police to tell the whole truth all the time, then shout it from the mountain top.

By the way, My mother, Ellen Wheeler met with us for coffee. That is all.

Posted by CHIBI, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:33 am

The point here is that whether the MVPD is arresting someone who is in the wrong or not, the manner and lack of correct protocol in which most of them handle situations is idiocy.
Most of them have a egomaniac, controlling, immature personality, and they feed those issues with doing what they want; not what is right.
I don't mind having the police support and I appreciate it when the people that are breaking the law are arrested, but I know that some officers antagonize people and they know how to get them to be so angry to be resistant, and therefore arrestable. So, innocent people get arrested, and hurt and killed.
The saying, 'good enuff for government work', is now a deadly cliche'.

Posted by Owen Johnston, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm

"How many people have you seen that, when in trouble, twist the situation to a perspective that better benefits them."

Good statement Carol Smith. It works for our side of the argument. Thanks.

Posted by kanan k, a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 21, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I don't want to defend anyone here. I think the Police Chief needs to appoint an independeny body to investigate this and publish a report to the entire public so that everyone is satisified that the Police dept is an honest agency. Persoanlly I never had any issue with the Police and in fact they were nice and polite to me when there were few incidents in the past decade or so. one officer was nice to enough to drive behind me to make sure my home was safe and secure enough when I saw bunch of people walking around with baseball clubs. it is possible an Officer from a big city who recently moved to Mountain view may have some issues. Who knows. So let us all be mindful of the fact that these officers are risking their lives when they are on duty. It is every citizen's interest to obey when they are told to do something by an officer. getting drunk and rude behaviour are not acceptable norms.

Posted by Owen Johnston, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 3:51 pm

In case anyone didn't read the other comments attached to the original posting. The event happened on Sept. 4, not the 11th. We , the occupants of the building(s) will be installing video cameras and microphones. That way if something like this happens again, the police and public will have no choice but to listen to what we have to say.
I am collecting written statements from witnesses. In case you think that everyone at the party was "DRUNK", that is not the case. Some attendees didn't drink at all. Try drinking four beers, in the period of three hours, and tell me how drunk and out of control you are.
P.S.- Part of the public intoxication law says that one must be obstructing a public way, street, sidewalk, etc.
It is up to the officers to tell you if you are intoxicated, no breathalyzer is required, and being in your front yard isn't considered private property.

Posted by Max, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Wylie said arrestees were taken in because they had not complied with orders to sit down.
When cops will get fist in the face for that kind of "order" maybe they'll understand they insulting people.

Posted by Chibi, a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Not all cops are honest, or have good intentions. They too can be criminals. They twist the truth and the law. They too can be liars. They are not all of the mindset to 'protect and serve'.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 21, 2009 at 10:31 pm

How about finding out which one of your neighbors complained? Seems like a better solution than installing cameras and getting statements and all the other nonsense.

Then again, maybe it will keep you busy for a while, which is probably a good thing.

Posted by NW Resident, a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 22, 2009 at 9:09 am

The part of the public intoxication law (Penal Code 647(f)) about a person obstructing a public way/street/sidewalk has an OR clause, not an AND. The only requirement is that the person be in a condition in which they're unable to care for their safety or others' safety, in the opinion of the officer, OR they are obstructing a public way.

Section 148(a)(1) deals with failing to obey an officer's lawful order, since it's considered a form of resisting an officer.

Here's one web link where you can find the text of these laws: Web Link

Posted by K, a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 22, 2009 at 10:53 am

Officer #71 who showed up on the scene for this call seemed to be the majority of the problem. He seemed more interested in enticing people into fights so that he could arrest them than in keeping the peace. I think as a police officer, you should be able to keep your cool when dealing with standard noise complaints. I would suggest that the city of Mountain View should look into #71's conduct from this and previous incidents and based on the information, decide whether he should be retrained. As someone who was not drinking at this event, it was pathetic to watch his conduct - it was worse than those who were arrested.

Posted by Lupita Villador, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 22, 2009 at 3:18 pm

This incident occured on Friday September 4, 2009 not September 11, 2009.

Posted by SFG, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 22, 2009 at 3:31 pm

According to an email ,only 2 police showed up originally and everything was fine but eventually broke down and more officers were called. Those that did not comply and were drunk were arrested. You have a lot of people drinking and a situation like this can easily get out of hand.
as is typical a few loud mouths raise the risk level and the officers first concern is their own safety. Not everyone was arrested and this will be a he said she said story.

Posted by Thomas, a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 22, 2009 at 5:29 pm

I think these guys and gals do the best they can with what they have but I think they are guilty of selective harassment. There are many public places that deserve attention, including clubs downtown. I honestly feel they don't like conflict, and they seem put out when they are called to check out any given situation. I don't feel confident in their abilities and judgments overall. This is a classic example of over reacting. Did they ever find the police car that was taken in plain sight?

Posted by Tom Lear, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 23, 2009 at 1:17 am

SFG: "According to an email"? I was there... the first group of cops to walk up was a lot more than two. "According to an email" is meaningless.

Posted by notdaveo, a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2009 at 10:02 am

"Oppression and harassment are a small price to pay to live in the land of the free." -- C. Montgomery Burns

Today's lesson class, is that *cops lie*. And a phalanx was a Greek military formation. Rome had *legions*, Tommy.

Oh, yeah - the thought occurred to me that since September 11th is the quasi-official "cops are heroes" day, this may simply have been their way of celebrating the anniversary of our glorious police state. What could be more heroic than roustng a bunch of hippy headbangers?

Posted by Owen Johnston, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I have just read the police reports about the incident. They are entertaining to read, but entirely false. Police lying is a bad and scary thing.

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