Editor’s note: This article was updated as it incorrectly stated both charges were felonies.
San Benito County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew O’Keefe appeared in two courtrooms Nov. 16 to face felony and civil charges for Sept. 21 case. In the first, he was arraigned on a felony count of false imprisonment and domestic battery, which is a misdemeanor. In the second, he appeared for the civil case, along with the alleged victim, who BenitoLink will refer to ‘Doe.’ A protective order will continue to be enforced. The civil case against him was filed Sept. 27. The felony case was filed Nov. 10.
“Mr. O’Keefe entered a plea of not guilty and denied the accusations against him,” said his attorney, William Pernik. “We have not yet been provided with all the evidence in this case and will be conducting a detailed investigation to refute these allegations.”
Sheriff Eric Taylor told BenitoLink that if O’Keefe, 27, were convicted he would not be able to work in law enforcement.
“He could be terminated if the administrative investigation shows policy violations supporting it,” Taylor said. “Or he could be exonerated and come back. I am open to any possible outcome. Our response will be in line with what the investigations show.”
O’Keefe was arrested Sept. 21 by Hollister police after Doe contacted them. He was booked in the county jail and put on administrative leave, pending a personnel investigation and the outcome of the trials. He was then released on bail. In accordance with the restraining order, he must remain at least 100 feet away from Doe and give up any firearms.
At the time of his arrest, Taylor said, “I am saddened and extremely disappointed with the actions of this deputy, and my concerns are focused on the victim and her family. I want to make it clear this office holds itself to the highest of standards and has zero tolerance for domestic violence or any dishonorable behavior.”
In her Sept. 21 written statement Doe claimed that after they broke up July 28, O’Keefe harassed her for months and then came to her home Sept. 21 when an argument ensued over a cellphone that he took from her. Doe claimed when she tried to take the phone back from him, he put her in a “body lock.” She claimed he punched her in the face and blamed her for the way he was acting because she wouldn’t let him go through her phone.
After six hours, O’Keefe left, she said. Then she contacted the Sheriff’s Department but was referred to the Hollister police, who provided an emergency protective order. She asked for a restraining order because “I don’t know what he is capable of,” she wrote.
Pernik told Judge Patrick Palacios in the civil courtroom that earlier, in the criminal courtroom, the judge, Thomas Breen, had permitted a “carve-out” that would allow O’Keefe to carry a duty weapon should he return to work. Pernik said O’Keefe no longer had a personal firearm. He asked that Palacios also approve the carve-out. Palacios allowed it, but only after asking Doe if she understood what was being asked and if she had no problem with it. She said she understood and did not have a problem with O’Keefe being permitted to carry a duty weapon.
District Attorney-elect Joel Buckingham told BenitoLink that in felony trials defendants are routinely required to surrender any firearms they own. Allowing O’Keefe to carry a service weapon would be an exception to this rule.
Taylor told BenitoLink that O’Keefe’s duty firearm is being held by the department until the criminal case runs its course.
Palacios also continued the civil case until Feb. 8 in order to protect O’Keefe’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, in that any comments he might make in the civil trial could be used against him in the criminal trial. Buckingham, though, explained that the same rules apply in that whatever O’Keefe says in criminal court could, in turn, be used against him in civil court.
“It does happen that a judicial officer will continue a civil case beyond a criminal case, because the outcome of the criminal case may tend to resolve the issues in a civil case and courts would prefer not to try things twice, if avoidable,” Buckingham said.
According to the website Findlaw: Criminal offenses “are generally offenses against the state (even if the immediate harm is done to an individual). Civil cases, on the other hand, typically involve disputes between individuals regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe to one another. These cases are adjudicated through civil lawsuits.”
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