Sheriff Fails to Disclose Burglary of Major Restaurant

This story originally appeared in Half Moon Bay Patch on Dec. 2, 2011 with the headline ‘Sam’s Chowder House Hit by Burglaries.’

by Kristine A. Wong

Popular Half Moon Bay restaurant Sam’s Chowder House was burglarized in two separate incidents this fall, with at least one of the incidents showing no signs of forced entry, according to two San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office reports obtained by Half Moon Bay Patch through a public information request.

Because the case is currently under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office has not disclosed what was stolen from the restaurant nor the value of the stolen items. The agency redacted – by obscuring or removing – information from the reports released to Half Moon Bay Patch.

Sheriff’s Investigations Bureau Commander Lt. Ray Lunny said the agency redacted information that could not be released without endangering the investigation.

“There are several persons of interest in this case,” Lunny said.

Lunny said burglary in the second degree — the type of crime allegedly committed in these incidents and the classification for all commercial burglaries — could land the suspect(s) one year in county jail at the most.

Undisclosed items stolen; incidents described as being similar in nature

The incidents were discovered on the mornings of Sept. 26 and Oct. 11, and allegedly took place at some time during the previous evening, according to the reports. In one report, a Sheriff’s Office deputy described the two incidents as being similar in nature.

During the evening of Oct 10-11, five items were listed as being allegedly stolen from Sam’s Chowder House, according to a report filed by Half Moon Bay substation Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Tealer on Oct. 11. The descriptions of the stolen items were redacted in the released report.

Tealer reported that he arrived at Sam’s Chowder House the morning of Oct. 11 and met with a staff person at the restaurant who showed him the area where the items in question were stolen.

Upon examining the scene, Tealer found evidence he categorized as “tools/equipment,” according to his report.

Tealer reported finding something (redacted information) on the perimeter of the restaurant’s northeast corner, and photographed something (redacted information) in the area. He then reported that he went inside the restaurant and photographed something else (redacted information).

No information on the suspected method of entry was included in the parts of the Oct. 11 report that had not been redacted.

“It is unclear which door the suspect exited,” Tealer wrote in the report.

Tealer took five statements from staff at Sam’s Chowder House, including one from a manager in charge of closing the restaurant the night before, one from a cook, and one from a server. The statements are included in his Oct. 11 report, and were largely redacted prior to release.

Nothing was found to be stolen in the Sept. 25-26 incident, according to a report filed by Half Moon Bay substation Deputy Dennis Loubal on Sept. 26. Loubal responded to the scene that morning after an unidentified individual associated with the restaurant noticed something (redacted information) at 7:45 a.m. and called 9-1-1.

In his report, Loubal wrote that he “did not notice any pry or force marks” at the suspected point of entry. The location of entry was redacted from the report.

Loubal reported that he dusted for fingerprints and lifted two prints at the restaurant on Sept. 26. He also took photos of the suspected point of entry that day as well.

According to his report, Loubal spoke to the staff person who called 9-1-1, but did not include a formal statement from the individual in the report provided to Half Moon Bay Patch.

Lunny said that the suspect(s) could be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor for the incidents.

“What will matter is the dollar amount of the loss and the facts of the case,” he said.

A representative from Sam Chowder’s House could not be reached for comment on the incidents.

Second Burglary Not Reported to Press or General Public

While the Sept. 25-26 incident at Sam’s Chowder House was listed in the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Police log as “Deputy took report of commercial burglary. Report not complete” in the 4000 block of N. Cabrillo Highway, the Oct. 10-11 incident was not included in the press log released to Half Moon Bay Patch and other news organizations.

No press release was sent to Half Moon Bay Patch about the September or October incident from the Sheriff’s Office.

Anonymous Source Gives Unconfirmed Information

Half Moon Bay Patch was alerted about the incidents from a source who wishes to remain anonymous. The source provided information which the Sheriff’s Office says it cannot confirm at this time due to its ongoing investigation of the incidents.

The source reported that he or she was told that the individual(s) who allegedly entered Sam’s Chowder House on the evening of Sept. 25-26 attempted to remove the restaurant’s safe through a window, but was unsuccessful.

On the evening of Oct. 10-11, the source reported, he or she was told that the safe was chained to the restaurant, but the individual(s) was allegedly able to unchain the safe, get it out of a window and winch it down to the ground. The source said that he or she was told that the restaurant’s hard drive containing its surveillance footage had been removed from the restaurant at some point during the evening as well.

Some individuals believe that the safe was put on a cart on the Coastside Trail behind Sam’s Chowder House and transported to a nearby parking lot at the harbor, the source said.

Concern Arises Over Nondisclosure

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Allan Alifano expressed concern that the Sheriff’s Office did not notify the public about the incidents.

“Any time something happens on the coast — especially that involves a business or possibly a home break-in — I think it’s so important to know what occurred so we know what we need to do to prevent it,” said Alifano, who runs Main St. business Alifano Technologies with son Mike and daughter-in-law Cortney.

The elder Alifano said he was told about the incidents at Sam’s Chowder House by a Half Moon Bay community member.

“I understand where law enforcement may say ‘We have a sensitive case here, so we’re not disclosing information for good reason,’” [Allan] Alifano said. “But it just seemed a little unusual to have a fairly major break-in in our community and hear about it from someone else…I don’t think it’s a good idea to hear about it from civilians,” he said.

“We normally do tell people that a burglary happened, but don’t tell about the specifics,” Lunny said when questioned why the Oct. incident was not listed in the Half Moon Bay substation’s incident log.

“I’m not involved in putting together the crime report,” he said.

Lunny said that for cases currently under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office does not release a lot of information “because we want to separate those who have the knowledge from those who don’t.”

“If we thought the incident was of a serious nature and that there was a threat to the community and a public safety issue with whatever had occurred, it would have been released,” Lunny added. “I don’t think it’s a threat.”

“Give us the basics to say that something happened and then say we can’t reveal it,” Alifano said. “If you hear nothing from the police agency it makes you scratch your head. It makes you wonder right away ‘Is there some sort of cover-up going on here?’ It leads people to speculation.”

“Just because the item did not appear in the incident log it’s not an indication of a cover-up,” said Lt. Lisa Williams, head of the Half Moon Bay substation for the county Sheriff’s Office.

Williams said she agreed with Lunny’s comment. “If there was an issue of public safety here, the incident would have gone out,” she said.

Alifano referred to the string of burglaries that took place along Half Moon Bay’s Main St. in the first half of September as another related example. The Sheriff’s Office did not alert area merchants or the Half Moon Bay City Council about the September incidents until after eight break-ins took place in less than two weeks.

“We tell people what to do to prevent a crime,” Lunny said. “You have to lock your doors and take all the common procedures to prevent a burglary from happening,” he said. “I think the same cautions apply to all of the businesses in Half Moon Bay and all communities.”

After investigation of the Main St. burglaries, the Sheriff’s Office reported that the suspects had gained entry through unlocked doors and windows, and cautioned merchants to take security precautions to prevent additional burglaries. The agency also offered to provide walk-through security consultations and provide tips to local merchants on how to better protect their business.

“Some good can come out of these kind of cases if the Sheriff will take the time and tell the media and say ‘Let me give you some tips for business owners,’” Alifano said. “It’s a wake up call.”

Half Moon Bay Mayor Naomi Patridge could not be reached for comment on the incidents.

To view the redacted Sheriff’s Office reports filed in connection with the September 25-26 and Oct. 10-11 incidents at Sam’s Chowder House, click on the documents attached to the media box at right.

(Redacted incident reports were posted next to the story at the time of publication).

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