PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — The City of Palo Alto has settled a multi-million federal lawsuit stemming from a 2018 arrest, stating the decision was made to “minimize the burden and expense of federal litigation.”
The lawsuit filed by Gustavo Alvarez stemmed from his arrest in February of 2018. During the incident, officers broke down the door to Alvarez’s home, dragged him out, handcuffed and arrested him on charges of driving with a suspended license. The charges were later dropped.
The entire incident was captured on a surveillance camera. Sgt. Wayne Benitez can be seen slamming Alvarez’s face on the windshield, while Alvarez was still in handcuffs. The force of the impact cut Alvarez’s lip, and loosened a tooth.
In addition, Benitez’s own microphone recorded what the plaintiff’s attorney Cody Salfen described as disparaging remarks against the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, and mocked Alvarez’s homosexuality using an effeminate voice.
“See how much they behave when we put our foot down? We’re not gonna get s— on out here by these frickin’ low lifes,” Benitez said in the clip.
“He’s gay. (laughter) And then Dad was behind him. ‘You guys go away!’” Benitez said.
“Gustavo Alvarez has completely lost his sense of peace and security in his home, as a result of the violent attack by the Palo Alto Police Department. No amount of money can restore that sense of peace and security,” said Salfen.
As part of the settlement with Alvarez, the city must pay $572,500, the entire department must undergo two hours of LGBTQ sensitivity training, and former Sgt. Benitez must make a public apology to Alvarez.
The original suit was for $10 million.
“It takes a lot for someone to accept an apology and to deliver an apology. I hope when it does come across it’s sincere. I think it doesn’t excuse his behavior,” said Salfen.
The City of Palo Alto released a statement regarding the settlement:
“To minimize the burden and expense of federal litigation, the City Council has elected to settle the claims of Plaintiff Gustavo Alvarez arising out of a police-related incident which occurred in February 2018. While the City and Police Department sharply dispute the vast majority of Mr. Alvarez’ claims and have deep concerns about Mr. Alvarez’ continuing criminal behavior, the City believes that this resolution is in the best interests of all involved – including the Police Department, its police officers, and Mr. Alvarez.
Key settlement terms including a monetary settlement of $572,500 to Mr. Alvarez and his attorneys, a public apology from Mr. Benitez (former sergeant with the Palo Alto Police Department) and sworn police officer training scheduled for January 2020.
The Police Department is continuing its own internal investigation of the incident and since that investigation remains pending, the City cannot comment further at this time.”
Salfen had some issues with the statement.
“I think that’s a pure form of victim blaming. They can’t deny what’s in that video. They can’t deny the actions of those police officers,” said Salfen. “And for them to come out now and say they ‘dispute’ the causes of action that we put forward in the lawsuit, it’s disingenuous'”
Benitez retired from the department on September 30, and will collect a monthly pension of $9,866, the Mercury News reported.
The department will begin the sensitivity training in January 2020.