PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — A retired Palo Alto police officer was charged Tuesday in connection with the assault of a suspect during an arrest in 2018, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen’s Office.
According to a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the officer — 62-year-old Wayne Benitez, who was a sergeant at the time and has since retired — slammed the face of a handcuffed arrestee against the windshield of the man’s car during the incident on Feb. 17, 2018.
The DA’s office also said that Benitez filed a false police report regarding the arrest. If convicted of assault under the color of authority and lying on a police report, Benitez could face up to two years in jail.
“Peace officers who use more force than necessary hurt more than the person they are trying to arrest. They damage the deservedly excellent reputations of the vast majority of officers who work every shift to help people,” said Rosen. “And they strain the bonds with their communities who expect and deserve that police officers will protect and serve them fairly and professionally.”
According to the press release, this case was recently reviewed by the DA’s newly-formed Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team. The incident happened at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. The DA’s office said that on the night of Feb. 17, 2018, Benitez was among a group of officers taking 39-year-old Gustavo Alvarez, who was suspected of driving with a suspended license, into custody.
Benitez was caught on a security camera striking Alvarez twice as he was being handcuffed and then slamming his face into a car windshield, according to the DA’s Office.
After the arrest, Benitez’s body-worn microphone captured the officer saying, “See how quickly they behave once we put our foot down?” Benitez can be heard saying to another officer, “And that’s what we don’t do enough of.”
The press release notes that not only did Benitez explicitly say “No other force was used” in his police report about the incident, he also wrote that the only force that was used was to pull the victim from the trailer.
The video and audio showing Benitez’s actions did not come to light until the following year.
Alvarez was charged with suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed by the DA’s Office.
Alvarez later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Palo Alto, claiming damages of $10.4 million due to the incident. The suit claimed that the recording from Benitez’s microphone also recorded disparaging remarks the officer made against the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and Benitez mocking Alvarez’s homosexuality using an effeminate voice.
Last year, the city settled the civil suit, paying Alvarez $572,500. The settlement also stipulated that the entire police department undergo two hours of LGBTQ sensitivity training, and required Benitez to make a public apology to Alvarez.