The Tulare Police Department and the Yes on Measure I campaign are telling very different stories about an incident that may or may not have happened at the campaign’s downtown office earlier this month.
In a Visalia Times-Delta article published on July 3, Stuart Pfeifer, a spokesman for the Yes on Measure I campaign was quoted as saying that campaign workers and Tulare police believed the crime was politically motivated. A police spokesman says it isn’t so.
“Based on the investigation and the evidence produced, at this time, it does not substantiate a crime to have been committed,” said Sgt. Andrew Garcia, public information officer for the Tulare Police Department. “This does not appear to be politically-motivated.”
Sticking to His Guns
Pfeifer is a public relations consultant working for Sitrick & Company, contracted out to the Yes on Measure I campaign and the Tulare Local Healthcare District, the legal entity that owns the hospital.
In his defense, Pfeifer, said he was working from secondhand information when he made the statement. He maintains an officer told him the break-in may have been political in nature.
“I wasn’t there. I was repeating what I was told by our campaign staff,” he said. “I spoke to two different police officers, or rather I spoke to one and a campaign worker spoke to another. All anyone said is ‘may have been.’ Someone tried to break into that office. Nobody knows what happened. All we know is someone tried to break into that office.”
The “we” in this case does not include the Tulare Police Department. There is no evidence a crime was committed, Garcia said. The incident has been recorded as suspicious circumstances by the TPD.
“The evidence located and collected did not prove this case to be either a crime of vandalism or a robbery,” Garcia said. “The officer checked all the doors of the Measure I office and did not observe any fresh signs of forced entry. …”
Stephen Harrell, a Tulare resident and 30-year veteran of local law enforcement, questions how the reporter who quoted Pfeifer found out about the incident. The TPD said no statement was issued to the press about the event at the time it occurred.
“My question is how did he find out about this?” Harrell said. “Was he there at the time? The police were there.”
In a letter to the editor printed by the paper that quoted Pfeifer, Harrell pointed out the Measure I office’s backdoor is in a locked courtyard and police found pry marks; however, his letter was edited, he said, to leave out the fact the pry marks were old.
“When they printed it, they left ‘rusted’ out. That’s an integral part of it,” Harrell said. “If he (the investigating officer) saw fresh pry marks, that’s one thing, but rusty is something else.”
Garcia confirmed the marks found were not recent.
“The officer’s investigation found what appeared to be old scratches on the office’s rear exit deadbolt lock, which is believed to have been caused by everyday use,” he said. “The door frame around the locking mechanism did have what appeared to be pry marks. However, there were no matching pry marks on the device near the locking mechanism that would indicate an attempted forced entry.”
Pfeifer said the incident was definitely not created by the Yes on Measure I campaign to draw attention to itself.
“If someone suggests that we staged this in order to get publicity, that’s absolutely absurd,” he said in a written statement following his interview.
Pfeifer still maintains someone tried to get into the office.
“People who opened that door said it was very difficult to open,” he said. “There were pry marks they’d never seen before.”
The door, according to Pfeifer, was so loose in the frame it was “as if it was coming off its hinges.”
The TPD confirmed the loose door, but not a reason it was out of place.
“It is unclear if it was loose due to someone attempting to gain entry or if the frame (was) coming loose from normal wear and tear over the years,” Garcia said. “The officer’s investigation found obvious dust build-up over some of the indentations, which indicates some of the scratches and pry marks were old.”
Video surveillance of the area also revealed no sign a crime was committed, Garcia said.
‘No’ Signs Stolen
Activists with a long list of reasons why voters should deny the Tulare Local Health Care District another $55 million in publicly-funded bonds have banded together to conduct the No on Measure I campaign, and it, too, may have been targeted by politically-motivated thieves.
According to its Facebook page, the No campaign’s signs are being stolen, and on at least two occasions the alleged crimes were witnessed. In the first and older incident, a home surveillance camera captured images of an individual stealing a No on Measure I sign from the front yard of a private residence.
The second, more recent incident allegedly took place during daylight hours on July 14 at M Street and Prosperity Avenue. No on Measure I workers say three witnesses saw someone stealing signs, throwing them into the trunk of a car, which then nearly struck three other vehicles as it left the scene. Witnesses recorded the vehicle’s license plate number.
The TPD was not able to locate reports on either incident.