YOSEMITE, Calif. – The director of several Bay Area art galleries was indicted Thursday on a rare federal charge after he allegedly pushed his wife to the ground following an argument about his extramarital affair in Yosemite National Park.
Stefan Kirkeby, 59, could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison if convicted of one count of interstate domestic violence — a charge rarely brought by federal prosecutors. 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 Brianna Vollmer and Stephanie Obernesser responded to the park’s Happy Isles Bridge around 7 p.m. on Aug. 5 after a park employee reported hearing a man yelling at his wife and threatening to kill himself. , before he left. The officer said three patrons also approached him, saying they witnessed the man threatening his wife.
“They saw the partner threaten her, that it was scary and that they separated her from him,” he wrote in a witness statement. Rangers are still searching 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, listed in court records as ZY, identified herself as Kirkeby’s wife.
ZY told rangers that she and Kirkeby were walking on the bridge when an argument broke out over his alleged extramarital affair. Kirkeby allegedly pulled her by the arm, knocked 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 a hand over her mouth.
“A bystander reportedly pulled ZY over and helped her leave the area,” Vollmer wrote in an affidavit filed in court. “ZY stated that she thought KIRKEBY was going to kill her.”
Vollmer wrote that she noticed ZY had scratches on her hands, with dirt on her hands and clothes. She said the dirt and injuries were from Kirkeby and refused medical attention.
The woman gave rangers a description of Kirkeby and said 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 Awahnee Cabin 721, where he and his wife were staying. Kirkeby denied any domestic violence and said the injuries may have been from him holding her tight and telling her he loved her.
At his detention hearing last week, Kirkeby’s lawyers revealed that he was the “Kirkeby” of Casemore Kirkeby, a contemporary photography gallery in San Francisco. He also operates the Smith Andersen North Gallery in San Anselmo, which his lawyers say will open soon.
They argued that Kirkeby should be released on $10,000 bail because of his ties to the community and his willingness to abide by any court conditions, including orders to stay away from his wife. Judge Helena Barch-Kuchta ordered Kirkeby held on the recommendation of pretrial services, citing a previous violation of a peace order out of Marin County and “many, many interactions that could have resulted in death” he had with 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 conditions or a combination of conditions that will sufficiently mitigate that danger,” the judge said.
Kirkeby has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on August 19 for a preliminary examination.