Palo Alto, CA — Gustavo Alvarez — despite not having a criminal record — has been repeated harassed by Palo Alto police. So, he had surveillance cameras installed on his home in case his fears of police harassment ever materialized on his doorstep. Last year, that is exactly what happened. Only because Alvarez had these cameras installed is he a free man today. Also, because he had these cameras, he is receiving $500,000 and an apology.
After the incident in February of 2018, Alvarez sued the Palo Alto police department for using excessive force and mocking his homosexuality. That suit was settled this week. According to NBC Bay Area:
Part of the terms of the $500,000 settlement require every officer in the Palo Alto Police Department to undergo LGBTQ sensitivity training.
Additionally, the supervising officer from the incident, Sgt. Wayne Benitez, has to write an apology to the man they arrested. The District Attorney also is considering criminal charges against Benitez.
“I wanted to have proof of what they were doing because I want them to stop harassing me,” Alvarez said of why he installed the cameras in 2016.
Before they were seen on video ripping him from his home and mocking him, police accused Alvarez — without any evidence — of driving on a suspended license. Instead of issuing a summons or a citation, the Palo Alto police department sent a unit to Alvarez's residence. When the officer confronted Alvarez, Alvarez asked him if he saw him driving a car, to which the officer replied, "No I did not."
After realizing he was simply receiving more harassment without any evidence of a crime, Alvarez went inside his home and closed the door.
“His opinion [was] that there was no legal justification to detain him,” said Alvarez’s attorney Cody Salfen. “And that ended up being true because the judge at the Superior Court level found that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him.”
Instead of realizing they had no legal reason to detain him, the officer called for backup and a half dozen heavily armed cops showed up at Alvarez's home — over an alleged traffic ticket. One of those cops was Sgt. Benitez who appeared to take pleasure in doling out pain to the innocent gay man.
As the video shows, police rip Alvarez from his home where he is slammed onto the hood of his car. Benitez then begins punching and slamming Alvarez for no reason at all. He punches Alvarez in the ribs, then the face, and then slams his face into the windshield causing Alvarez to start bleeding as a tooth is knocked loose.
When Alvarez tells the officer he is bleeding, this power-tripping cop responds by saying, “You’re going to bleed a hell of a lot more.”
Out of the view of Alvarez's surveillance camera, Benitez's body camera captures a conversation that appears to encourage the excessive force used on Alvarez as well as officers mocking him for being gay.
After dragging an innocent man from his home, beating him, and illegally arresting him, Benitez then uses this moment to teach his officers this is the proper way to be a police officer.
“See how quickly they behave once we put our foot down?” Benitez can be heard saying to fellow officers. “And that’s what we don’t do enough of.”
Notice how he says "they" as to imply that Benitez is better or in a different class than Alvarez.
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About 30 minutes later, Benitez confirms how he feels about Alvarez and his family, saying, “We’re not gonna get s*** on out here by these frickin’ low-lifes.”
Alvarez was then thrown in a cage, his tooth knocked out and bleeding profusely.
“I have never seen police officers exhibit [such] explicit bias,” Former San Jose Independent Police Auditor Judge LaDoris Cordell said after listening to the audio.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” said Alvarez. “Later on, you think about it, like why did they do this for a [possible suspended license]?”
“It was being perpetrated by police officers under the color of authority,” Salfen said. “And that’s unacceptable, it’s illegal, and it’s honestly shocking.”
And he's right. The police appear to have covered up their violence over the alleged 'crime' of a suspended licence too. And, there was no reasonable suspicion to detain him in the first place.
As NBC Bay Area reported at the time:
The incident also shows a potential lack of transparency from officers involved in Alvarez’s arrest. The use of force captured on Alvarez’s security camera is never mentioned in officers’ police reports, and use of force reports required by department policy were never submitted. Alvarez’s attorneys say the video challenges the entire legal basis of the arrest and subsequent criminal charges.
The judge in Alvarez’s case agreed, saying that Palo Alto officers lacked sufficient legal justification to detain and arrest Alvarez, and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office dropped the four misdemeanor charges stemming from the incident, including driving on a suspended license, resisting arrest, appropriation of lost property and possession of drug paraphernalia.
All the violence seen on the video below was conveniently lacking any mention in Sgt. Benitez's report. Indeed, Benitez lied and specifically stated that "no other force was used."
“His vehicle was parked directly in front of the short set of stairs that led to his front door, so Agent DeStefano and I put Alvarez on the hood of his car where he was handcuffed. No other force was used on Alvarez,” the report said.
“Who is going to trust that Sergeant and his group of officers who have engaged in this kind of behavior, and then don’t even have the courage to step up and write it down?” Cordell said.
As you watch the disturbing scene unfold below, remember that had Alvarez not decided to film the police, he would like be sitting in jail right now. Sadly, however, despite the egregious nature of the crimes seen in the video, Benitez was never fired and will simply have to go to LGBTQ sensitivity training and say he's "sorry."
"The peace officers who were involved in this situation have no business being peace officers," said Salfen. We agree.