Courts

Art gallery director hit with rare federal charge for allegedly battering wife at Yosemite National Park

YOSEMITE, Calif. — The director of several art galleries in the Bay Area was indicted Thursday on a rare federal charge after allegedly shoving his wife to the ground following an argument over his extramarital affair in Yosemite National Park.

Stefan Kirkeby, 59, could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison if he’s convicted of one count of interstate domestic violence – a charge that is filed by federal prosecutors only rarely. According to Sacramento-area lawyer Mark Reichel, state prosecutors usually handle domestic violence cases but, because Yosemite has dual sovereignty, the US Attorney’s Office was able to get involved.

According to court documents, park rangers Briana Vollmer and Stephanie Obernesser responded to the park’s Happy Isles Bridge around 7:00 PM on August 5th after a park employee reported that he heard a man yell at his wife and threaten to kill himself before walking away. The employee said three visitors also approached him, saying they had witnessed the man threaten his wife.

“They had seen the partner threaten her, that it was scary, and that they separated her from him,” he wrote in a witness statement. Rangers are still looking for the visitors in question.

The rangers arrived at the bridge to find a distraught woman sitting on a fence with her arms around her chest. The woman, referred to in court records as ZY, identified herself as Kirkeby’s wife.

ZY told the rangers that she and Kirkeby were walking by the bridge, when an argument broke out over his alleged extramarital affair. Kirkeby allegedly pulled her by the arm, shoved her to the ground, and fell on top of her. When they hit the ground, ZY said, she tried to scream for help and Kirkeby put his hand over her mouth.

“A bystander reportedly pulled ZY away and helped her leave the area,” Vollmer wrote in an affidavit submitted in court. “ZY stated that she thought KIRKEBY was going to kill her.”

Vollmer wrote that she noticed ZY had scratches on her arms, with dirt on her hands and clothing. She said the dirt and injuries were from Kirkeby and declined medical attention.

The woman gave rangers a description of Kirkeby, and said he became angry easily, that she didn’t feel safe returning to the cabin with him, and that Kirkeby had choked her to the point of suffocation several times before.

Kirkeby was arrested shortly before midnight at Awahnee Cabin 721, where he and his wife had been staying. Kirkeby denied any domestic violence, and said the injuries could’ve been from when he was holding her tightly and telling her he loved her.

At his detention hearing held last week, Kirkeby’s lawyers revealed he was the “Kirkeby” of Casemore Kirkeby – a contemporary photography gallery in San Francisco. He also runs the Smith Andersen North gallery in San Anselmo, which his attorneys said was slated to open soon.

They argued that Kirkeby should be let out on a $10,000 bond because of his ties to the community and willingness to abide by any court conditions, including stay-away orders from his wife.  Judge Helena Barch-Kuchta ordered Kirkeby detained on the recommendation of pretrial services, citing a previous violation of a peace order out of Marin County and “very many interactions that could result in death” that he had with his wife.

“When we’re talking about safety of the community, I think that what’s being described here is the risk of somebody dying, and I don’t think that there are conditions or a combination of conditions that will sufficiently alleviate that danger,” the judge said.

Kirkeby has pled not guilty, and will return to court on August 19th for a preliminary examination.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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