YOSEMITE, Calif. – The manager of several Bay Area art galleries was charged Thursday with a rare federal charge after he allegedly pushed his wife to the ground after an argument about their extramarital affair in Yosemite National Park.
Stefan Kirkeby, 59, could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison if convicted of felony interstate domestic violence, a charge that federal prosecutors rarely bring. According to Sacramento-area attorney Mark Reichel, state prosecutors typically handle domestic violence cases, but because Yosemite has dual sovereignty, the U.S. attorney’s office was able to step in.
According to court documents, park rangers Briana Vollmer and Stephanie Obernesser responded to the park’s Happy Isles Bridge around 7 p.m. Aug. 5 after a park employee reported hearing a man yelling at his wife and making threats – to commit suicide before leaving. The employee said three visitors also approached, saying they saw the man threatening his wife.
“They had seen how the couple threatened her, that it was scary and that they separated her from him,” she wrote in a testimony. Rangers are still looking for the visitors in question.
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, was identified as Kirkeby’s wife.
ZY told the rangers that she and Kirkeby were walking on the bridge, when an argument broke out about their alleged extramarital affair. Kirkeby allegedly pulled her arm, pushed 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 allegedly pulled ZY out and helped her out of the area,” Vollmer wrote in an affidavit filed in court. “ZY stated that she thought KIRKEBY was going to kill her.”
Vollmer wrote that he noticed ZY had scratches on his arms, with dirt on his hands and clothes. He said the dirt and injuries were Kirkeby’s and refused medical attention.
The woman gave rangers a description of Kirkeby, saying he was easily angered, that she did not 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 Cabin 721 in Awahnee, where he and his wife had been staying. Kirkeby denied any domestic violence and said the injuries could have been when he held her tight and told her he loved her.
At his detention hearing last week, Kirkeby’s lawyers revealed he was the “Kirkeby” of Casemore Kirkeby, a San Francisco contemporary photography gallery. He also runs the Smith Andersen North gallery in San Anselmo, which his lawyers said will open soon.
They argued that Kirkeby should be released on $10,000 bail because of his ties to the community and willingness to comply with any court conditions, including restraining orders from his wife. Judge Helena Barch-Kuchta ordered Kirkeby detained on the recommendation of pretrial services, citing a prior violation of a peace order out of Marin County and “many interactions that could lead to death” he had with the his wife
“When we talk about community safety, I think what’s being described here is the risk that someone will die, and I don’t think there are any conditions or a combination of conditions that will sufficiently mitigate that danger,” he said. said the judge.
Kirkeby has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on August 19 for a preliminary examination.