By Kiet Do

PALO ALTO (KPIX) — An innocent Bay Area man who was bitten by a police K9 during an incident last June when he was sleeping on his own property is now looking for justice.

Newly released body-cam footage from Palo Alto Police and Mountain View Police shows, in graphic detail, the moment a police K9 mistakenly bit a man who was asleep in his family’s backyard shed.

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The incident began around 2:30 a.m. on the 1800 block of Elsie Avenue in Mountain View, where MVPD had formed a perimeter around the neighborhood, searching for a felony domestic violence and kidnapping suspect.

According to a statement from the City of Palo Alto, a family member granted officers permission to search the backyard. The footage shows a Palo Alto Police officer and his K9, which were called in to assist, enter through side gate without making a verbal announcement or warning.

The dog can be seen rounding a corner and discovering Joel Alejo on the ground. In the video, Officer Nick Enberg can be heard shouting commands, while the dog continues to bite Alejo for at least 45 seconds. Officers then looked though Alejo wallet to confirm his identity, uncuffed him, and helped him as he limped to a patrol car for medical attention.

While at the patrol car, the body cam captured conversation between Alejo and the officers.

“What’s the issue, officer? What happened?” Alejo asked.

“We’re looking for a kidnapper. There’s a kidnapper around here. Yeah, so when we found you hiding in the shed, we thought it might have been you,” said the officers.

“Oh no!” replied Alejo.  

“So, it’s OK. We know it’s not you so you’re not under arrest. You’re not in trouble,” said the officers.

The press release that accompanied the body cam footage said in part:

After obtaining consent from an occupant of a home to search their yard for the suspect, officers entered the side yard and immediately encountered a person on the ground inside an open storage shed. Believing the person to be the hiding felony suspect, officers used the police canine to assist in detaining the person. Further investigation revealed the person was not the suspect and in fact was not connected to the criminal incident that prompted the search. 

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Alejo, a construction worker, said he had just returned from Washington DC, and after working long hours, fell asleep in the backyard, and awoke to the K9 biting his leg.

“That’s the most painful I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Alejo.

The wounds has since healed, but Alejo believes there may be permanent nerve damage, and now walks with a slight limp.

“The whole leg is numb. Now when i get up, I can’t walk straight anymore,” said Alejo. “I’m mad, you know? I’m mad because what happened to me is not right, you know what I mean?”

The body cam footage also shows an officer later returning to the the home, and interview Alejo’s relatives.

“Did you hear an officer given an announcement like ‘Hey we’re checking the backyard!’ or anything like that?” asked the officer.

“I didn’t hear that,” said the family member. “They just went in silently.”

KPIX 5 Security Analyst Jeff Harp has extensive experience working alongside K9 teams, and commanding tactical units. He said it’s common for officers to announce their presence before entering a property.

“You want to give a person an opportunity to answer the door and say ‘I give up’. But I don’t know we don’t know whether [Alejo] would have responded to an announcement or not.”

In July and December, Alejo filed a total of $20 million dollars in claims against the City of Palo Alto, citing assault, battery, wrongful detention, false imprisonment, excessive force, emotional distress, anxiety, medical costs, loss of past and future earnings, scarring and disfigurement, and other punitive damages.

The City of Palo Alto has denied the claims.

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Alejo’s attorney, Narek Postajian, says lawsuits against the City of Palo Alto and the City of Mountain View have been filed, but the ongoing pandemic has delayed processing at Santa Clara County Superior Court. Palo Alto and Mountain View will be served with the lawsuits once they are officially filed.