Ian Parkinson: Witness for hire

October 5, 2010


San Luis Obispo County Sheriff candidate Ian Parkinson’s testimony as an expert witness in a 2000 civil case helped his sister-in-law Rita Tavernetti collect a $1.4 million dollar settlement, causing some to question Parkinson’s ethics.

By his own account, Parkinson, currently a captain with the San Luis Obispo Police Department, has testified as an expert accident reconstructionist in more than 200 cases over the past 18 years.

In the Tavernetti case, Parkinson was paid $150 per hour for a total of about $6,000 to investigate the accident and testify in support of his sister-in-law’s quest for damages.

A review of the court transcripts by CalCoastNews shows that Parkinson failed to publicly reveal his relationship to Tavernetti during 108 pages of testimony. In addition, even though Parkinson has testified that he has owned and run an accident reconstruction business for 18 years, he does not appear to have a San Luis Obispo city business license as required by the city’s municipal code.

Also, in order to conduct investigations for trials not associated with his job as a peace officer, Parkinson is required by law to be a licensed private investigator, according to the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Failure to acquire a valid private investigator license is a violation of the California Business and Professions Code. Parkinson does not have a private investigator’s license, according to state regulators.

In 2000, Parkinson testified in a jury trial in which his sister-in-law was seeking monetary damages after her father died in a freak accident. Parkinson testified that both an eyewitness and a California Highway Patrol officer’s accounts of the crash were flawed, leading the way for his sister-in-law to collect a large award.

Nevertheless, Parkinson failed to mention to the jury or the judge that one of the plaintiffs, Tavernetti, was his sister-in-law.

“Obviously, at some stage, somebody needs to determine fault in the collision,” Parkinson testified in the 2000 civil trial, according to the transcripts. “Many times, both parties don’t know who is at fault and they need somebody, an impartial person on the outside, to look at the issues to determine fault.”

Parkinson did not return requests for comment.

While testifying, Parkinson noted that he was a San Luis Obispo Police Officer who had spent a significant amount of his time responding to traffic accidents.

A leading group in determining standards for law enforcement ethics – the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute on Ethics – contends it is not ethical for Parkinson to conduct an investigation and testify as an expert witness for a family member while serving as a police officer.

“Using his name, title, and credibility to garner a huge payout for his sister-in-law is a clear violation of avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest,” said Mike Carpenter, the Josephson Institute on Ethics director of risk management services. “It takes a lot of brass to say there is nothing wrong with giving testimony when his sister-in-law is a litigant.”

More than 10 years ago, Tavernetti’s father, Ted McCormack, was driving southbound on a road that ran parallel to Highway 101 in King City, according to court records, with a blood alcohol level of 0.23 percent.

A truck pulling a trailer loaded with irrigation pipes was headed northbound when the trailer disconnected and angled into McCormack’s lane. He swerved to the right onto the dirt shoulder and clipped the trailer. The impact dislodged a pipe which broke through McCormack’s front window and pierced his head, killing him, according to the CHP traffic report.

When officers arrived, they found the trailer and the roadway littered with pipe. But neither of the two trucks described by an eyewitness were present. One of the officers was leaving the scene, going south on Central Avenue, when he noticed a set of headlights streaming in the night sky from an irrigation pond about 1,300 feet from the accident site. The officer discovered McCormack and his truck at the bottom of the pond.

The only witness to the accident, Cheryl Coppos, told police that McCormack was driving about 35 miles per hour, swerved to the right onto the dirt shoulder, hit the trailer and continued on, according to the California Highway Patrol incident report.

The CHP officer at the scene determined gouge marks in the dirt and skid marks found on the road showed that the accident occurred on the shoulder of the roadway which also backed up the eyewitness’ statement. Both the CHP officer and the eyewitness’ statements supported the argument that if McCormack had not been so intoxicated the accident could have been avoided.

Nevertheless, Parkinson testified that the skid marks were likely made at another time, that the point of impact the CHP documented was wrong, and that the witness’ account of the accident was incorrect.

San Luis Obispo-based attorney and friend of Parkinson, James Murphy, was hired by Parkinson’s sister-in-law to file the lawsuit. Both Parkinson and Murphy began conducting their own investigation at the scene within 10 days of the accident.

Tavernetti put up fliers asking for witnesses to contact Murphy if they had information on the accident and offered a $5,000 reward. For more than a year no one came forward.

Shortly before a scheduled hearing, Murphy agreed to a $5,000 nuisance settlement to be paid by G&H Farms, the owners of the trailer. However, before the settlement was paid and more than a year after the accident, Matthew Hayes, an ex-boyfriend of Tavernetti, came forward with claims that he had passed McCormack shortly before the accident and noticed a white Ford truck towing a trailer loaded with pipes belonging to G&H Farms going the other way.

Hayes claimed that McCormack was driving faster than the eyewitness had reported, which concurred with Parkinson’s assertions that McCormack had no time to brake or veer and possibly avoid hitting the trailer. According to court records, the reward for information had been raised to $100,000 at the time Hayes came forward.

Frank Cunningham, the attorney who defended G&H Farms, passed away a few years ago. His former partner, Bill Gavin, said Cunningham believed his clients were not responsible for the accident and was very unhappy with the outcome of the trial. Murphy claims he disclosed the fact that Parkinson was Tavernetti’s brother-in-law to Cunningham, who he said felt it was not an issue.

However, the attorney who sat second chair, Jennifer Moon, and the private investigator who worked for Cunningham both said they thought Cunningham would have mentioned the relationship in cross-examination.

“It was a horrible case,” said Greg Deitz, a private investigator who often worked for Cunningham. “Frank would have gone ballistic if he knew about Parkinson.” Murphy also said expert witnesses often testify for friends or family.

Murphy used at least one other expert witness in the case. Steve Blewett, a mechanical engineering expert from San Jose, who is also an auto reconstructionist, testified before the jury about how the trailer disconnected from the truck.

When contacted by CalCoastNews, Blewett said he would not testify for a family member or friend because of the appearance of impropriety and laughed when he learned Parkinson was related to the plaintiff.

CalCoastNews also spoke with a half dozen collision experts who all said they would not testify for a friend or a relative because of the potential conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety.

“I wouldn’t be involved in a case with someone that was even an acquaintance,” said Bard Johnson, an expert collision witness. “I have had to recuse myself twice. One was a neighbor of mine and the other was related to someone I know.”

In addition, Murphy claimed Parkinson’s testimony was very limited. However, a copy of Parkinson’s testimony provided by the court recorder is 108 pages long.

Parkinson has used his official position to testify in hundreds of cases for financial gain, according to Parkinson’s testimony. “I have actually two occupations,” Parkinson said. “I’m a police officer, been a police officer for about 17 years; and I’m also an accident reconstructionist.

“Sometimes it’s full time,” Parkinson said when questioned about the amount of time he works as an expert witness for hire.

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So 3rdGeneration gets to define what the truth is.

Specify what you say are the lies. Do you have the transcripts? If so please enlighten us.

What you don’t like is news that exposes those who are dishonest. Might they be a friend or family?

You are engaging in damage control for your buddy and you know it !!!

If Ian wants to tell us the facts are lies then lets hear from his own lips.

Dear 3rd generation resident:

Quit acting like a child. You have went up and down this forum spewing your misinformation and anger. You’re not going to change any minds doing that. You won’t be able to spin this one. You need to come to grips with the reality of the truth. Your boy is going down for his own actions and there is nothing you can do about it.

^^Yeah, what Crusader said^^

No more feeding the 3rd Generation Resident Troll. Just ignore him from now on.

Do court transcripts and testimony lie? Since when?

Someones slanted incomplete interpretation out of context does.

Does say, “Many times, both parties don’t know who is at fault and they need somebody, an impartial person on the outside, to look at the issues to determine fault.”

Does NOT say, I am a relation by marriage to, blah blah blah.

Sounds like the farmer had a shitty attorney if they did not ask or investigate. I really dont think a sister in law is too close of family (at least not mine), so that issue is moot. Did karen forget to mention Ian was one of two different reconstuctionists? It is all math and physics anyway.

wow and im not even registered to vote…

Slowtime: You are correct. There were two reconstructionists hired by Jim Murphy–Parkinson and a guy from San Jose. Karen will be adding some quotes from the San Jose expert later tonight. She interviewed him and even he has reservations about what Parkinson did in this case.

So thanks for bringing it up.

Baloney. If it were “all math and physics anyway”, Parkinson wouldn’t have been recognized as an expert by the court. I’m not sure why he was to begin with, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Attention CCN Readers. You should know that Karen Velie not only drove to Monterey County to follow this story and spent her own money to have the court reporter transcribe the transcripts of this trial. CCN is a valuable asset to this community and if you appreciate the FACTS that she delivers to the citizens of this county please hit the Paypal button and show your appreciation.

I hope Mr. Parkinson files a law suit with Mr. Murphy against Karen Viel. Defermation of character charges should be due to Mr. Parkinson….I’m sure she is worried at this point

I’m sure that she isn’t the least bit worried. I would say that it is the complete opposite.

Remember that we have all heard this before from countless guilty parties? I still laugh when I recall Kelley Gearhart saying “LIES, LIES ALL LIES” on the Congalton Show and “I’m going to sue you, I’m getting my attorney and I’m going to sue you, lies lies all lies”! That wasn’t the first (but is very memorable) and it wasn’t by far the last. Nobody has even come close to successfully suing Karen or CCN or even come close to really filing because the TRUTH is that they never have any grounds. Filing against Karen is political (GOB) suicide. LOL

I hope does too, he will lose his shirt and I am sure I can get Karen to peel off a few bucks for you, so you can go back to school to learn how to spell.

Right on Katie, doing this work isn’t cheap. It is impossible to measure her worth to us, I’m sure it is way above the support she gets. I was thinking today how interesting it would be if she contacted the current crooks and offered to suspend publication. I imagine that would be worth at least 100 k. We should show our worth by supporting this site that has done so much for us.

If there were/are laws broken by Mr. Parkinson’s actions, should he not be terminated from his current public servant position? This seems very fundamental to me. Even a small amount of personal integrity would dictate removing himself from the sheriff’s race and resigning his position on SLOPD.

If Mr. Parkinson, or his superiors, chose not to do the right thing regarding this revelation; then it shows the public just how deep the corruption runs. There is no gray area here; it is a matter of 108 pages of court documents. It is the blatant disregard for obtaining a business license, reporting an outside business endeavour to the city, it is de facto lying by presenting himself as a disinterested 3rd party expert to the court, and quite frankly it is embarrassing to the citizens of this county to have Mr. Parkinson running for the highest elected position in our county.

Break out the torches and pitchforks, its time to run someone out of our county.

So, here we have an entire news site spending time trying to discredit one candidate while on the other hand, running stories explaining away the other candidates attempt to increase his pension through a trumped up medical claim….is this journalism…I actually always thought Cal Coast News was at least attempting to be fair….but this is really pathetic.

And to all those who comment on things such as infidelity, let me know where you work and Ill leave comments on your home page about you and then I would like to see you try to defend it…. we now live in a world where acquisitions become fact due to the nature of the internet….. its very sad.

I think both candidates are probably good people… but come on Cal Coast…. lets have a little balance.

Shame on you.

mass805: Exactly what flavor of Kool-Aid are you drinking? Articles appearing here have had negative impacts on both campaigns, even you admit that. The reason that more negative reporting has occurred against Ian Parkinson is because he is the one with the skeletons in the closet; if Ian had not had anything negative to report on, do you honestly believe that Cal Coast News would resort to making stuff up? All of the articles here have been reported on using tried and true reporting methods; investigating tips, researching to find supporting evidence (or dismissing the tips if the evidence isn’t there to support the allegations) and all of the articles have had cold hard facts presented. If you want to continue to defend Ian Parkinson even after all of these negative FACTS have been reported, fine, keep your fingers in your ears while you hum to drown out the obvious, but to continue to “shoot the messenger” because you don’t like the message accomplishes nothing other than to make your continuing defense of Ian look more and more desperate.

I would consider this to be a “conflict of interest”. Why would any legitimate attorney even consider using Parkinson as an “expert witness” when the case involves his “sister in law”? Surely, there are others who could act in the same capacity, without “giving the appearance” of a conflict of interest.

RU4Real. you must be questioning the court system. If you read up on the actual case you would understand that this was tried in court. IF there was a conflict don’t you think the defending parties would have thrown out Mr. Parkinson’s findings? Hmmm maybe all you that are making comments about the case should do your research before you sound so ignorant. This paper is just parthof a smear campaign. I don’t know about you but if I wanted to read trash I would pick up the People magazine and read up on vicious gossip and hurtful natured journalism. I am going to protest this web site if Mrs. Velie does not start reporting more positivie information. The hard cold fact is that Ian will be elected and then what is she write about. She is and always has been a SLO PD cop hater. I challenge Mrs. Velie to be a bit more classy in her articles…..

The only smear campaign I see is you attempting to smear the author of this fine piece of research. Instead of attacking the person who did the research, how about offering solid evidence that rebuts the facts laid out in the new article? Your credibility has flown out the window and now you are going to have to work very hard to get it back.

choprzrul: The court case was tried before a jury right? so it does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that IF IF IF there was a problem with Mr. Parkinson’s affiliation to the case I am 100% positive that the defending attorney would have pointed this issue out. Obviously you are not familiar with accident reconstruction. Its all mathmatical equations. There is no way that HE could change those numbers. I do like the fact that he has been called an expert reconstructionist. (good job Ian) You are even smarter than I thought. Ians father is a true Rocket Scientist so that explains how intelligent he is. CAN’T wait for Ian to take over the Sheriffs dept. I spell Brilliance (IAN PARKINSON)… so try to gain your own credibility chopper man or whatever your name is…

Wow, another Kool-Aid drinker; “I spell Brilliance (IAN PARKINSON)…” How do you resolve the negative facts that have been reported about Ian Parkinson? Is it okay with you that he couldn’t be bothered to pay tax liens for a few years? Do you think that testifying before a court of law as an “expert witness” without revealing his relationship to one of the parties of the court case is okay? Or how about Ian running a business without the required license from the city? The activities that have occurred under Captan Parkinson’s watch with the SLO PD concerning a case where a man was arrested in his own home and all of the officers recording devices somehow failed to record them beating him up, holding open his eyes so they could spray pepper spray directly into his eyes, and when he was questioned at the police department’s interview room, all of the recording devices not working properly (again), the officers that were detained at the Mexican/US border and the police department NOT making any statements about the issue at all, even after the case was reported here? The list of improper activities that have been committed by Ian Parkinson is an embarrassment to all who have thrown their support behind him, but most, like you, cannot seem to grasp the reality of the situation. If Mr. Parkinson does not have the good sense to withdraw from the sheriff’s race and “retire” from the SLO PD, he needs to defeated by a huge margin and then terminated from his position at the police department.

this must be mike brendler or dale !!! get all the facts before you post such nonsence. Prove it is what I say. And you know what you CANT

3rdgenres: Dude, my name is Bob, I live in San Luis Obispo (for 37 years) and I have no involvement in law enforcement what so ever. The FACTS are in the story if you are not too dense understand what is written. For you to state “Prove it is what I say.” is juvenile at best; if you have a statement that you believe is false either in my post or Karen’s article, state what you want to have proved. If you can’t be bothered to state what it is that you want proved, then shut up and sit down, leave the conversation to the adults.

Bob, as always, right on.

Problem is that is was never divulged to the jury. No one knew about it until now and it was apparently Karen that had the testimony transcribed which now proves that their was A CONFLICT OF INTEREST that was never divulged. THAT’S THE PROBLEM.

Isn’t it likely that Ian P and atty Murphy HID the conflict from the court and defense counsel so that they would never know to ask about it?

Think about that!

“Obviously you are not familiar with accident reconstruction. Its all mathmatical equations. There is no way that HE could change those numbers. ”

Obviously neither are you. Accident reconstruction is clearly not an exact science (at least not when Parkinson is concerned) because Parkinson came up with a vehicle speed number that was TWICE as high as the one that the highly trained CHP investigators determined.

The CHP Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) is superbly trained and deals with thousands of high speed accidents a year. Trying to compare them to a small town cop who at most sees a 10-20 low speed crashes a year and couldn’t even be bothered to get a PI license, let alone any accredited training is an absolute joke.

There are many court cases where bad science and corrupt investigators cause miscarriages of justice. This was clearly one of them.

P.S. Glad you can spell brilliance, because you can’t spell MATHEMATICAL in your post and Ian would probably need his brother’s help to spell either of them.

Mait was not called out on this dude. Get real. This was just a commom crash. King City is the first tour for the chp academy grads.

thanks slowtim finally someone knows what they are talking about besides me…..

You call a fatality accident with the dead DUI driver ending up 1300 feet from the point of collision and the vehicle that towed the trailer being missing from the scene (stolen?) a “simple accident’?

King City may or may not be the first tour stop for CHP grads, but there is no way the CHP would put a rookie academy grad in charge of a mysterious fatality accident investigation. Academy Grads aren’t even allowed to drive a car on a simple patrol on their own during their first year on duty. Unlike the SLOPD, the CHP actually requires degrees, accredited training, and a high level of experience for their investigative roles.

Unless you actually know the experience and level of training of the CHP Investigators who looked into the accident on the day it happened (rather than at least a week later as Parkinson did), then you are making pure speculation that goes again common sense.

If the CHP investigator’s testimony hadn’t been procedurally suppressed, there is little doubt that he would have torn Parkinson’s investigative report to shreds. Why else did the prosecuting attorney try so hard to suppress it?

Thank-you CCN. Without you we would never find out about things like this. I am always so amazed, and deeply disappointed, when our law enforcement representatives do underhanded things. If this story is true than Mr. Parkinson is nothing more than a common cheat.

Murphy also said “expert witnesses often testify for friends or family.”

Oh really and how often is their relationship to a plaintiff or the accused not disclosed to the judge or jurors?