Update Below: Written Aug. 12, 11pm
Around 2001, Kenneth Walton made headlines for trying to sell a forged Richard Diebenkorn painting, getting caught and then writing a memoir about the experience. Now the San Francisco-based author is in the news again, but this time for a viral Facebook post detailing his side of a run-in with Arizona's Department of Public Safety (DPS).
As of 14 hours after Walton posted his story to Facebook, the post has been shared more than 2,500 times, one of the sharers being outspoken New York Daily News reporter Shaun King.
Early Friday morning, Walton posted that he had been pulled over by a highway patrol officer from Arizona's DPS while driving to the Grand Canyon from Nevada with his daughter. Unfamiliar with the rental car he was driving, Walton said he had issues opening his passenger side window and the officer, growing impatient, pulled his weapon and threatened to shoot Walton.
My daughter rolled down her window and I explained that we were in a rental car, that we had no weapons, and I was having trouble figuring out how to roll down the front passenger window from my driver's side door. The officer didn't listen, and kept yelling louder and more insistently, ordering me to comply with his request as he leered at me down the barrel of his pistol. My daughter panicked and tried to get out of her booster seat to reach forward to roll down the front window, and the officer screamed her at her not to move as he pointed his pistol at her.
Somehow I was able to get the window down, and then the officer ordered me to exit the car with my hands up. I did so slowly and with my hands raised as high in the air as possible, and as he came around to the driver's side of the car he screamed at me to face away from him, as if I were doing something wrong. (I didn't know this was the protocol for being arrested at gunpoint.) Then, as I had my hands in the air, he yelled, at the top of his lungs, in a voice I will never forget, as my daughter looked on in terror, "Get your hands away from your waist or I'll blow two holes through your back right now!"
Walton says the police officer let him go after determining that he was not driving a stolen vehicle. But Walton's daughter was traumatized by the incident. In his Facebook post, Walton named the officer who held him at gunpoint -- Oton Villegas. Villegas joined the Arizonas DPS' Highway Patrol in 2008, according to an Arizona Department of Public Safety newsletter.
The Arizona DPS has yet to respond to Walton's accusations.
A lawyer-turned-businessman, Walton has helped build companies such as HammerTap and the social media game developer KlickNation, and is also the founder of the StreetFoto San Francisco festival, an international street photography event.
But Walton is perhaps best known for his time as an online art dealer who used dozens of fake profiles to drive up the prices of his eBay auctions and who, in 2000, claimed that a painting he was selling might have been the work of the famous abstract expressionist Diebenkorn. Diebenkorn was a Berkeley resident when he died in 1993 and Walton reportedly bought the painting at a Berkeley garage sale.
In 2001, Walton and two other art dealers were arrested and charged with fraud for manipulating eBay auctions. He pleaded guilty in exchange for leniency and was sentenced to nine months probation. Walton also relinquished his law license.
In 2006, Simon & Schuster published Fake: Forgery, Lies, & eBay, Walton's memoir detailing his time as an online dealer of forged paintings, and his story was covered by publications such as the New York Times and the Sacramento Bee.
UPDATE: Walton updated his post at 11pm Friday night with a response to critics of his story that included his case number:
I get that many of you don't believe my story. I've attached the AHP case number to this post in case you want to verify it. Arizona Highway Patrol district 2, Flagstaff. Officer Villegas, #7251. I have his card but I'm not going to post his personal information here. Check it if you want, but I doubt many of you will.
For the record, I don't have an axe to grind with law enforcement. Nearly every interaction I've ever had with police in my life has been polite and professional. I've been a victim of violent crime and have been assisted by police officers who went beyond the call of duty to make me feel safe. I have immense respect for the job cops do and the danger they face. My daughter and I ended up in an unfortunate encounter with an officer that I believe responded in and excessive and unreasonable way, and it was terrifying. I wanted people to know about it, and know that what we encountered is an everyday reality for less privileged segments of our society. But I'm not trying to cast blame or disparage all police officers, most of whom are kind and decent people.
He also addressed his involvement in the eBay scandal:
And for the record, yes, I was involved in an eBay art forgery scandal that came to light back in in 2000. I cooperated with the authorities, plead guilty, served 9 months of probation, and took responsibility for my actions. I make no excuses for it. If you think that has anything to do with this, there is nothing I can do to change your mind. I've also been a taxi driver, a lawyer, a city planner, a video game startup founder, a dad, and a street photographer, in case you want to hold any of those things against me.
Read Walton's entire post below: