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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so obvious

Karen Velie has a serious hard on for Parkinson.


Crusader

Oh come on let’s be real. You cannot comport yourself like Parkinson has and expect not to be excoriated once you decide to run for public office. I strongly suspect more is coming with regard to Parkinson. Let’s see how clean Cortez reminds…


bobfromsanluis

Did you mean: “Let’s see how clean Cortez remains ?


Crusader

Yes indeed…


Cindy

so obvious say’s, “Karen Velie has a serious hard on for Parkinson.”

Tisk Tisk, we know who has a reputation for having an “insatiable hard on”.


Sorry Folks, Couldn’t pass the truth up.


cheseburger

Wow Cindy check this out, you need a private investigator’s license to do an investigation even if you are a cop and that investigation doesn’t involve current police issues.

“Both Parkinson and Murphy began conducting their own investigation at the scene within 10 days of the accident.” Just seems odd to me?


DashRiprock

This guy is a scum bag to high heavans, unfortunatley, there is not enough time to really get the word out…just aniother money grubber looking to add to his pension


aliberalsworstnightmare

Are you kidding me? This guy testified that both a CHP officer and a witness were wrong? I don’t know about you, but I would take the investigation expertise of a CHP officer over some city PD guy every time. What a egomaniac.


I sure hope Cortez knocks this pretty boy off his high horse.


slorealitycheck

I brought up Mr. Parkinson’s son’s Facebook page to make a point. Most of you got it. I had warm fuzzy’s for Parkinson for Sheriff. Nice enough guy, seems like a good family man, etc. His son went to the same school as my son. Paths crossed socially. After seeing some of the stuff he has done as a professional, unprofessionally, I changed my mind. We need someone who has the least amount of unscrupulous goings on in there life, the better. I think one thing that stuck out in my mind was him trolling for votes in a assisted living facility. Most of the people in there are impaired, but hey get a vote anywhere you can. Sleazy! Then you have this new revelation of doing an analysis and being an investigator of sorts for accidents with no business license or credentials to do so. Conflict of interest to boot. He has an excuse for everything. If the guy was honest, he would cop (no pun intended) to certain things, ie., not paying his taxes. How hard is it to say, You know, I put it on the back burner, ignored it and should have paid it, I didn’t, therefore I was wrong and rectified it with paying them and paying late fines. Instead we get a cock n bull story. We need change and he is not the change we need.


SLOhNO

Find it weird you “troll” his facebook and have for years apparently…


Nancy

Sounds like she is a good mother who pay’s attention to who her son hangs around with.


slorealitycheck

That is exactly right Nancy! I wasn’t trolling him in particular SLOhNO, he just happen to be on a list and when you are trying to peruse 600+ friends of your underage son, it get’s tedious. Yes, I kept an eye on my son and the friends he has and had. Sorry, but “I HATE JESUS” is a red flag until you get the full story and even then, not so good.

Like I said, Most people got it. You didn’t!


slojo

slorealitycheck…..so you say Parkinson trolled for votes in an assisted living facility…..well Cortez had Chuck and Annie come to his fundraiser in order to drum up more ticket sales.


slorealitycheck

Apples and Oranges SLOJO Chuck wasn’t lying in a bed on meds, mending from a stroke, etc. Get real. Chuck could have very well said, NO! He could have said I am voting for Ian Parkinson, but thanks for the invite. People had plenty of places to see Chuck and Annie. Sorry your slight on Cortez is ridiculous.


aliberalsworstnightmare

THAT is priceless. He testified that both an eyewitness AND a CHP officer were wrong?! The recognized leader in accident investigation, the CHP was not good enough for him? If I ever get in an accident I’ll make sure it is in the CHP’s jurisdiction, at least they’ll get it right and I won’t get screwed.


How many of these stories are going to keep coming out about this guy?


Crusader

What bothers me the most is just how easy our local media could be controlled prior to CalCoastNews.com None of this would have seen the light of day were it not for Karen Velie. In her interview with Dave Congalton yesterday she said she has a “tip” on Joe Cortez. Well bring it on! I want to know as much as I can about both candidates.


I don’t want to be limited to the strained and over-cooked pablum that is served-up by the Tribune and now the New Times. Bad law enforcement (in many departments) has taken a toll in our county. We need the best person for the job and it certainly doesn’t appear to be Ian Parkinson.


isoslo

I though Ian was the better candidate, but now I think he is a greedy unethical cop. We do not need more of that around. I hope Cortez is up to the task.


Crusader

He puts on quite a show with a smile and a shoeshine but we definitely need more from our next sheriff. Joe Cortez isn’t William Parker but he sure seems like he’s a helluva lot better choice than Parkinson.


Cindy

After reading what Willie has to say and what TacomaRose pointed out yesterday, it looks like we all need to keep an eye on cases filed by Murphy as he seems to be the attorney of choice when LE is attempting to pull a fast one. As noted by TR, Murphy is also the attorney that a sheriffs deputy retained in an effort to sue the Catholic Church after he claims that he was groped by a homosexual priest while the deputy was working undercover at Pirates Cove. According to the deputy he suffered severe distress after he notice the priest masturbating and asked him what he was doing (dah). The deputy then got close enough for the priest to grope him (dah)! Guess the deputy and Murphy figured the Catholic Church has deep pockets. LOL


http://calcoastnews.com/2009/12/sheriff-deputy-accused-of-shaking-down-roman-catholic-priest/


PLEASE VOTE FOR CORTEZ, get these jerks out of here, we know that Parkinson considers Murphy the LE attorney of choice and has no problem with fraudulent claims and shenanigans.


GrayGranny

This story is disturbing and I hope Mr. Parkinson was not “double dipping” while testifying as an expert accident reconstructionist–hope he was using vacation time or a non-paid work day while testifying. If I were on a jury and knew the expert witness was a relative of the plaintiff, I would have to include that information when deliberating. It saddens me that a tragic family death, intoxicated or not, was used to benefit many including Mr. Parkinson.


And if unethical acts have been committed by Mr. Cortez, I’m hoping Central Coast News will also report on them.


Let the truth rise to the top.


slojo

It’s so funny to me that Cortez supporters (Karen) go to such great lengths to discredit Parkinson. Karen, if you were a legit, objective journalist, you would be digging into Cortez’s past just as much as you are Parkinson’s. It could be considered admirable the determination you have for getting Cortez elected, but it’s embarasing that you try to smear the opponent while pretending that Cortez is perfect.

Come on, let’s hear some dirt on Cortez…..no one is perfect, and if they appear to be, it scares me.


3rd generation resident

watchout slojo: If you say anything opposing Cortez or Karen/Cindy on this blog they will delete your comments. Its only set up to smear Mr. Parkinson. And this article is only to take the heat off of Mr. Cortez for the lies he was caught in at the debate last week. He lied about turning in for disability in the past. He is all about the $$. what a joke….


choprzrul

Again, please point out specific inaccuracies in the above article, as has been asked before. Please show me what you find in the article that is non-factual.


If not, STFU and stop trolling, it is bad etiquette.


MarkJames

slojo, why don’t you do your part and send Karen some dirt on Cortez? What’s the matter, can’t find any, yes I know it’s frustrating for you. I understand, we all understand. It’s my understanding that the New Times has been trying to trash Cortez, the problem is that 90% of all LEO and FD file similar claims when they notice a health problem even when it is temporary like Joe’s was.


slojo

MarkJames…..relax. My point is that it’s is VERY clear that CCN is bias towards Cortez and is doing everything they can to discredit Parkinson. I just don’t think it’s very professional for an “objective” journalist to spend all thier time bashing one candidate. Karen & Dave should be running Cortez’s campaign instead. All of this bashing usually means they are scared thier candidate is going to lose…….


Nancy

What is it that you don’t get? Ian Parkinson has participated in an endeavor that was highly unethical. In fact his actions teeter on being criminal. This is not supposition, this is fact.

He also can’t be bothered to procure the required licenses to act in the function of a private accident investigator and witness. Now is he ignorant beyond belief or does he think the rules don’t apply to him? Which is it? You want to call this bashing because you obviously think it’s perfectly OK for him to thumb his nose at the law and the rules. This is exactly what Hedges did and I guess you liked things just fine when Hedges was at the helm. Most citizens who hear about this trial, the outcome and the role that Murphy and Parkinson played in it are shaken and actually incredulous but not you. Have to wonder why? You like things just the way they are, WE DON”T. No doubt you’re on Cortez’s boot list.


bobfromsanluis

Well here’s a good letter to the editor, at the Tribune website:

Values and integrity

As a former wife of our current sheriff and an 11-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, I know what it means to have good morals, integrity and high ethical standards in both one’s personal and professional life.

I would expect nothing other than that from any public official, especially the sheriff. For those three reasons alone I personally endorse Joe Cortez for sheriff-coroner.

Cortez has the professional experience, leadership values and the integrity needed to hold the office of sheriff.

Please join me in voting for Joe Cortez for our next San Luis Obispo County sheriff.

Ramona Hedges

Morro Bay

Here is the link if you want to check it out: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2010/10/06/1318733/letters-to-the-editor-107.html


SLOhNO

Why would people who bash Pat Hedges enjoy hearing his wife endorsed their candidate?


Cindy

Ramona Hedges undoubtedly knows who all these players are. She is a veteran of the Sheriffs department and is a “veteran” of a marriage to the current police chief. She probably knows better than anyone about all her husbands misdeeds, who the GOB’s are and knows that Parkinson is not the man for the job. Thank You for speaking up Mrs. Hedges.


MarkJames

“their candidate”, SLOhNO? Perhaps you missed this, “As a former wife of our current sheriff”.

Didn’t she have to call out his boy’s because he was beating her up one night? Glad to see she finally left him and got a divorce.


Nancy

I once participated in a mailing to every voting republican in Atascadero. The cost was less than $400.00 and the mail house folded the material, addressed it and posted it for my group. I think the Cortez campaign committee should do the same thing with this article. Mail it to every voting family in the county through a professional mailing house. It’s easy and fast and inexpensive if you avoid the glitz and glamor, just mail the article.