Ian Parkinson: Witness for hire

October 5, 2010

By KAREN VELIE     UPDATED

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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willie

I doubt that the trolls are coming from Ian, he is just a political “useful” pon.


Karen’s investigative report is pure and clean “mudless” if you will. Again, any ordinary police officer, attorney, or magistrate can see it was objective.


Someone is/ was trying to intimidate her, having failed will attempt to affect or influence or impress her another way either behind the scene or in a subversive manner with anything they can find out about her or around her.


Time permitting, I may go out of my way to send this original report outside to the Department of Justice, California State Bar for review, and every Judge, attorney, and the CHP office in Monterey and SLO! (I doubt than any SLO attorney would be surprise of this finding but I do know that it would be enlightening to Law Enforcement and Magistrates).


PaulJones

willie do you think the insurance company that was defrauded would be interested. It is 1.4 million and not exactly a small piece of change?


willie

For $1.4 Million? If they knew about it!


Attorneys realize the court’s overload and know how to get their expert witnesses in and bar others out by timing, objection and inconvenience of the courts and agencies.


If you have lived in the Central Coast long enough, you would know Murphy has had several sucessful million dollar law suits and many public officals (including law enforcement) have used this attorney to bail out their family members in civil or criminal distress (they owe him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and maybe have paid subversively.


PaulJones

Until Karen wrote this article and had the testimony transcribed this was unknown to all but a handful of individuals. People need to start writing letters to other media agencies immediately. Most accept letters to the editor through e-mail. At the same time it’s important to realize that they need time to review the transcripts themselves. I encourage Karen to post the transcripts on line with the contact info of the, court, court reporter, case # etc to make it easy for the other media outlets. It’s important that the people are informed and time is short.


Cindy

For a good LAUGH, check out this letter that was published in today’s New Times! I think it’s time to send some letters of FACT…


Vote for Ian, like me

Paso Robles

Dee Lacey


I ask your readers to join me in voting for Ian Parkinson for sheriff. The Sheriff’s Department needs someone with Ian’s interpersonal skills and political acumen. He will bring his enthusiasm, communication skills, personal integrity, law enforcement professionalism, and leadership to the position.


Ian has served since 1984 in virtually every role from patrol officer to captain. The endorsements of the deputy sheriffs association say a great deal about the respect and trust his peers have in him. The other candidate for sheriff is now retired, but Ian is in his professional prime. He understands that being county sheriff isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It is time for a positive change in local law enforcement by electing a man who will restore trust, transparency, and accountability.


Please support Ian Parkinson in the November election.


SLOBIRD

Thanks for sharing Cindy. I’m sure that there are a lot of folks turling today and would like to remove their name as supporters. How would anyone know unless someone like Karen sacrifices herself to seek out the truth and share it. Anyone of us could select the wrong candiate, I know I have, the question is how big a person are you once the truth is exposed. Are you really going to vote for your candiate because he is your candiate of choice regardless of the facts or do you really want the best person to serve this County as Sheriff. Unless something unethnical is exposed about Cortez I am voting for him. I like what Arizona has done on there ballots, NON OF THE ABOVE. Interesting concept as there are several elections I could use that one….


Dave

knowtheFACTS: This is hardly a COP BASHING WEBSITE. Karen’s dad is a highly regarded retired federal agent who devoted his entire career to law enforcement. She doesn’t bash cops. She is performing the watchdog function that used to be the hallmark of good journalism, but has sadly disappeared.


willie

Karen’s investigative report following a tip was clean.

She is NOT bashing or throwing mud but someone else was and included a legal intimidating threat on yesterday’s blog.


The race for Sheriff is between Parkinson and Cortez

I am NOT voting for either one of them

I am filling in Ben Hall’s name for Sheriff

Hall has nothing to gain or lose, highly educated and experience

Hall had no brag or campaign to win or con the conscious of voters

He seems the most upright in my guess or opinion


CitizenB

Yes, seriously, Cindy. So far this story has not broken on any of the more mainstream news sources like the Trib and KSBY. And Parkinson has such a marketing juggernaut going for him that it will be difficult to out-shout all his ad buys (like the ones touting ALL his supporters). So if we don’t want this guy continuing the GOB-above-the-law trend at the Sheriff’s Department, we all should be writing letters to the editor to get this information out to the general public. This stinks, and the public needs to know about it before the election.


CCWheelers

Maybe it is because some people are scared of the current “Bad Cops” that run the County and fear a retaliation. We have seen first hand that the law means nothing to the ones that currently enforce it.

knowtheFACTS: You maybe a good cop…. however, it does not sound like it.


3rd generation resident

good job new times. Now you know real journalism….


Crusader

Yeah, that “how to make meth” article was a Pulitzer material…


danika

The decision is clear. Parkinson isn’t trustworthy, honest, or representative of MY concept of peace officer who protects and serves me. He serves himself. The evidence presented shows this. I wasn’t going to vote for him before reading this but thank you for enlightening me more as to why my vote against Parkinson will be prudent.


liberalgirl

What happened to all the other comments, etc.? What does “trolled” mean? Comment posting is fairly new to me and I am not familiar with the lingo. Thanks!


BTW, Mr. P. seems to be more and more crooked as the days go by. I guess my vote has now been changed to Cortez, and I started as a staunch Parkinson supporter. Pretty sure there are A LOT of others out there just like me…………..


Just sayin’ …………………………………………………..


Cindy

The other comments have been rolled up under OLDER COMMENTS. Hit the button, the first 109 comments are there.

Trolled means that a nut came over here who was so obtuse that they were trashing the thread with gibberish so they got deleted.


P.S. Moderator should notice that a bunch of comments (from 10/6) got scrambled down to the very beginning of the thread and are now way out of sequence. Perhaps those comments can be moved into the correct time frame?


moderator

Sorry to take so long getting back to you.

A Troll is a comment that is made to create a angry reply, derailing discussion with inflammatory remarks.

these type of exchanges are sort of like car wrecks along the information highway, we clean them up as we go.


beachrat

I met Parkinson one time, and that was enough for me, I feel that I am a pretty good judge of character after almost 80 years and having dealt with numerous law enforcement officers from many jurisdictions, Joe Cortez will get my vote this time. we don’t need another Hedges around for the next 4 years’

Peace


Lewy

Next 4 years? If elected now, Parkinson will be here for 20 years (or more).


Nancy

God forbid that Parkinson is Sheriff for even a day. This county has lost enough law suits and paid many more of them behind closed doors because of a Sheriff who lacked integrity and either didn’t know the law or thought he was privileged. God help us if this Parkinson guy gets elected. Heck he managed to smooze a jury into believing that a guy that was driving at three times the legal limit wasn’t “the least bit” responsible for an auto accident so this golden boy can obviously talk anybody into anything.


slorealitycheck

Here is another one for you. Ian’s son Alec at one point had “I hate Jesus” plastered on his Facebook page, while a senior at Mission College Prep! Shortly after daddy’s campaign got into full swing, it was taken off. The only reason I bring this up is because Ian needs to clean his own house before trying to take on another messed up one! There is a long list of WTF’s going on with the Parkinson camp. I for one have decided not to vote for him. I am just mad I even supported him even if t was a small monetary thing. He just doesn’t seem to be who he made himself out to be. I am disappointed. I am sure there is more out there, but the already long list of unscrupulous going on’s has made me change my vote!


SLOhNO

Out of curiosity, is Alec running for sheriff? Do you personally know Alec? And is religion something you want to be brought into this race?


“he needs to clean his own house”… You need to get off your high horse, he’s 19 years old and that was posted when he was a senior in high school so… he was 17, a minor.


Crusader

If you send your kid to a parochial school and they make a note of it on their Facebook page along with stating “I hate Jesus” the parents have a big problem.


SLOhNO

Actually Alec went to public school until high school because he chose to go to Mission College Preparatory instead of San Luis HIgh. I am sure Alec does not “hate Jesus” and you can not judge parents because their son posted something, that as far as you know could have been a joke, on facebook… If you do not know Alec then how do you know what is meant by that?


Cindy

SLOhNO, I hardly think that posting “I hate Jesus” could be considered a joke. On the other hand it takes faith and belief to hate Jesus which means he believes. I would say that parochial school did their job in that aspect. He has plenty of time to get over his beef with Jesus.

The SLO County adults usually leave the kids out of this type of politics, I think we have said enough about Alec Parkinson, it is his father that is running for Sheriff.


SLOhNO

You may not know this but often times children/ teens leave themselves logged into facebook on other people’s computers, and often times friends think its funny to post things… I’m not making excuses for anyone, I am simply saying if you don’t know who you are talking about why talk at all?


Cindy

You may not know this but some Hispanics name their kids Jesus. Maybe he was talking about some Mexican kid! LOL


When slorealitycheck brought this item up, the point had nothing to do with Alec. Now why not stay on topic and stop with you’re obtuse deductions?


zaphod

pronounced heysoos


moderator

Wow, we got trolled! a fair number of comments&replies deleted. ??? email


TacomaRose

Here is something from the story that suddenly jumped out at me.


The original reward that Parkinsons sister in law put out was $5,000. Apparently an entire YEAR goes by without anyone providing information and then the reward goes up to $100,000.


So now, with the reward at a whopping $100,000, the mystery witness comes forward and lo and behold it’s Tavernetti’s ex boyfriend Matthew Hays. Even though the incident happened over a year earlier, Hays just happens to remember passing McCormack’s truck and seeing a G&H farm truck in the same area. How Convenient.


How many of you readers out there remember what road you were on and what types of vehicles you saw on a given day over a year ago.


I smell a $100,000 dollar skunk and I’ll bet that there was some serious fabrication going on in this regard. THINK ABOUT IT!