Palo Alto police alleged to have kidnapped autistic daughter 12 years ago

The city of Palo Alto will go to trial next month over a lawsuit filed by a couple who says a police detective abused her power and wrongfully took their autistic daughter away from them 12 years ago. But the Palo Alto city attorney’s office contends that the police officer was just doing her job.

The daughter, now 42, now lives in the San Andreas regional center in Campbell, a state run home for the developmentally disabled. The police officer accused, Detective Lori Kratzer, no longer works for Palo Alto police, but the city is still on the hook in the lawsuit.

The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 3 in San Mateo County Superior Court, according to the couple’s Lawyer, David Beauvais.  The city council is scheduled to discuss the lawsuit, which stems from a November 2001 incident, in closed session on Monday.

In November 2001, Jeffrey and Elsie Golan lived in a trailer at 809 San Antonio Road in Palo Alto with their epileptic, developmentally disabled, autistic daughter Nancy, who was 31. They were starting businesses at the rented office space.

‘Happy, simple, gregarious’

Nancy spoke a few words, but could dress, feed herself and go to the bathroom on her own. “She was generally a very happy, simple, gregarious, lovable, charming, outgoing person… capable of feeling and experiencing all normal emotions.” according to the lawsuit.

Nancy was well cared for, according to the suit.  Her parents watched her around the clock, took her on long walks and try to get her out to interact with other people whenever possible.

“Nancy always came first,” the Golins’ lawsuit stated.

On Nov. 15, 2001, Nancy Golin woke up from taking a nap in the family’s van and wandered away while her mother was in the bathroom.  It wasn’t the first time she had walked away without warning, in fact it happened dozens of times before, by all accounts. The Golins called police, who searched all night with dogs but didn’t find her.

Police declare home a crime scene

In the morning, police, taking direction from Kratzer, swarmed the couples abode. There were as many as 20 police officers and 10 patrol cars there, according to the Golins lawsuit. Police photographed the van, looked for the Golins daughter in a nearby dumpster and took photos of the van, which they referred to as a “crime scene,” according to the Golins lawsuit.

Police also investigated the couple, but didn’t read them their Miranda rights or formally arrest them, the Golins’ Lawsuit said.

Kratzer told the couple that police needed to take Nancy to Stanford hospital for a checkup, according to the lawsuit. The couple claims that the detective never indicated that she was taking Nancy away because she suspected they weren’t caring for her.

After being brought to Stanford for a mental evaluation, she was put in the psychiatric ward. A year later, she would be placed in a residential care facility. She would never live with their parents again.

Nancy’s living conditions at issue

Accounts by the Golins’ and the city about the families living conditions differ. Kratzer’s report paints a bleak picture of Nancy Golins living space as a portion of a dark office with a small heater, stacks of boxes and a portable toilet.

Kratzer also said that the van Nancy slept in reeked of urine and after she returned home she had soiled clothes, oily hair, body odor and seemed like she hadn’t bathed in a long time, according to the Palo Alto’s response to the lawsuit.

Kratzer also questioned whether the Golins were mentally stable. Police records showed that the Golins had been involved in three domestic violence calls, while Jeff had been arrested nine times and Elsie had been arrested three times, according to the city’s response to the lawsuit. The lawsuit did not say what they had been arrested for.

But the Golins insisted that they took care of Nancy and organized their lives around her. “Elsie was living in her motor home with Nancy…Nancy’s family was not homeless or poor and Nancy was not neglected or endangered,” the couples lawsuit states.

In January 2002, Nancy Golin was taken away from her parents by the Santa Clara County District Attorneys Office and transferred to a residential care facility. Her parents could visit, but weren’t allowed to take her home according to Palo Alto.

Couple arrested

The Golins were arrested and charged by the DA with felony dependent adult abuse. Jeff Golin pleaded no contest, but the record was later expunged after he served six months of probation. The charges against Elsie Golin were dismissed entirely in December 2002, according to Palo Alto’s response.

The city contends in it’s answer to the lawsuit that Detective Kratzer was justified in taking Nancy away to have her evaluated because she kept wandering off and it seemed like it wasn’t a safe situation for her.

“The undisputed fact that a severely developmentally disabled person had been out all night, could not tell her parents or police what happened, could not relate her physical condition, and could not care for herself, necessitated a 5150 hold,” Palo Alto’s response said. A “5150 “hold refers to the authority of police to take a person against their will to a hospital for a 72 hour mental evaluation.

Palo Alto attorneys are also arguing that because Kratzer believed that she was following the law and had probable cause to arrest and take Nancy to Stanford for an evaluation, she can’t be found guilty of wrongdoing.

Nancy, now 42, is still living at the San Andreas Regional Care Center in Cupertino where she receives medical care, but her parents still want her back, according to Beauvais. He said that they are hoping to win the lawsuit and use it as evidence in a new case in Santa Clara County to get her back.

Other defendants

According to Palo Alto, Stanford is named in the lawsuit. Among other things, the Golins accused Stanford for generating misinformation about Nancy’s condition and not giving her the correct treatment when they took her there for treatment before the 2001 incident.

Santa Clara County is also accused of violating Nancy’s rights, in part for its role in putting a “conservator” in charge of Nancy who they believe allowed her to be kept in bad conditions at a home after she was taken away from them.

It also names Jamie Buckmaster, a program manager for the counties Adult Protective Services Department and Malorie M. Street, a Santa Clara County Public Defender.

The lawsuit also names Georgianna Lamb and Lisa Wendt, both of whom worked as Nancy’s conservator, and Andreas Regional Care Center.

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Post reporter kept out of transparency meeting

Even as some Palo Alto City Council members apologized to the public for secret meetings with billionaire John Arrillaga and promised more transparency, they repeatedly struggled to follow state transparency laws during their meeting.

The transparency troubles took place Monday night during a discussion on the city’s response to a scathing report from a Santa Clara County civil grand jury, a panel of residents commissioned by the court to investigate government operations.

The report had blasted the city for keeping from the public information about Arrillaga’s offer to buy a 7.7 acre parcel of land adjacent to Foothills Park that was a deed restricted as open space and a large-scale plan for 27 University Ave. that Arrillaga proposed on behalf of landowner Stanford.

One by one, the council members apologize or tried to explain what had happened. But despite promises to do better, the meeting offered several signs that the Council is still struggling when it comes to transparency.

For one thing, the discussion started more than two hours after the 9:05 PM scheduled start time. That caused council watchdog Hurb Borock to say at the microphone, “By the way, it’s two hours after your ‘transparency’ agenda said this was supposed to be.”

Sticking to the Brown Act

As council members talked about changes they wanted to make in the response to the civil grand jury, some also began discussing changes to city policy to prevent secret meetings from taking place.

Councilman Greg Schmidt was making suggestions for rules to limit secret and closed session meetings when Councilman Larry Klein interrupted to say that the council couldn’t start creating policy because it wasn’t on the agenda. Discussing something that’s not on the agenda would be a violation of the Brown Act, Klein said.

Next, Mayor Nancy Shepherd created a subcommittee comprised of Councilman Schmid and Pat Burt and tasked them with using the councils suggestions to edit the city’s response letter to the report.

‘Serial meeting’ rule

That’s when Shepard asked if the city council members could simply send their thoughts and comments to Burt and Schmid, presumably by email, rather than continuing to discuss their critiques at the public meeting.

But City Attorney Molly Stump jumped in and told Shepherd that doing so would be a violation of the Brown act.

“The discussion needs to happen in public,” she said. If the majority of councilmembers discussed a matter with each other via email, it would constitute what’s called a “serial meeting”, which is prohibited.

Reporter kept out of meeting

When this Post reporter asked if she could attend the meeting yesterday at City Hall, the city clerk said it was not a public meeting. With only two council members in attendance, it wasn’t required to be open to the public under the Brown Act.

Burt initially said he was OK with a reporter from the Post attending the meeting, then reconsidered after talking to Stump. He said that Stump told him it wouldn’t be fair to make the meeting open without giving all members of the public the chance to attend.

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