Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider released a two-page statement Tuesday explaining the wall of official silence emanating from her office and City Hall in general regarding the long series of front page articles running in the News-Press accusing Santa Barbara Police Officer Kasi Beutel of framing drivers suspected of driving under the influence. “I appreciate and share the frustration many people have expressed to me that we have not responded to these allegations,” Schneider said. But to issue statements, she explained, could compromise the integrity of the judicial proceedings now unfolding.
The author of the articles in question, freelance writer Peter Lance, was arrested January 1 for alleged DUI, and his legal proceedings have been the stuff of numerous courtroom extravaganzas, and the main trial has yet to start. (Among other things, Lance has alleged that Beutel forged the signatures of numerous DUI suspects on certain waiver forms. The original, allegedly forged documents have since been shredded. The judge has made it clear he intends to dismiss the case if there’s evidence that shredding took place improperly.)
Lance has accused Buetel of submitting inflated worker’s compensation claims based on altercations she’s had with DUI suspects. Schneider said she could not comment on such allegations without violating state and federal laws governing the confidentiality of medical records. Lastly, Schneider expressed concern that if she commented about allegations Lance made about personnel matters surrounding Beutel — that she provided false financial information in her job application — she, and City Hall, could be held liable for violating the state’s law regarding the privacy of police officers’ personnel records. Violations of “the public safety officers’ bill of rights,” she said, could result in a misdemeanor conviction and a $25,000 fine. “While I cannot comment on the details regarding Officer Beutel and other allegations made by Mr. Lance, you at least deserve an explanation as to why,” she wrote.
The mayor would comment on the fact that not all police cars come equipped with cameras, as reported by Lance. In the past, all cop cars had cameras. Schneider said the city administrator has been reviewing the issue and looking for grant funds to buy such video equipment. She said the council as a whole would be discussing the matter October 6.
This marks the second time Schneider has issued a statement on the Beutel matter without commenting directly upon the allegations. To date, none of the council members have evidenced any enthusiasm for discussing the matter. Councilmember Michael Self stated that the level of controversy had achieved the critical mass in her mind to warrant an independent investigation of the matter by an outside agency. The Police Officers Association has opposed such an inquiry, and that was one reason the union chose not to endorse Self in her reelection bid. The union had endorsed Self in the last election.