Palo Alto man files excessive force lawsuit against police department

The Palo Alto Police Department is defending itself against charges several officers violated a suspect's civil rights.

Attorneys for Gustavo Alvarez say the officers in question filed false police reports, used excessive force and violated his client's 4th Amendment rights against illegal search and seizures.

"It's aimed at deterring this type of unlawful behavior, this dishonest behavior by the police," said attorney Cody Salfen, who is representing Alvarez.

Salfen laid out hundreds of pages of evidence he says prove four Palo Alto police officers are unfit to wear a badge. His case centers on home surveillance video from the rough arrest of Alvarez in February 2018.

Officer Chris Conde initially tried to conduct a traffic stop because – according to the police report – the subject was known to have a suspended driver's license. According to Conde's report the, "suspect was seen driving in the roadway." But in the audio from the surveillance video, Conde can be heard responding to Alvarez' repeated question "did you see me driving," by saying, "I didn't."

In the video, Alvarez makes a hand gesture and goes back into his mobile home. Conde leaves for a few minutes and calls in back up. Now several patrol shift officers return, demanding Alvarez surrender. Sgt. Wayne Benitez eventually kicks in the door, grabs the suspect and – with help – throws him to the hood of a car.

Benitez said in his report, officers moved to make an arrest, "since officers had two on-view charges against him [Alvarez], driving on a suspended license and now resisting officers."

The report goes on to say, "…Agent DeStafano and I put Alvarez on the hood of his car where he was handcuffed. No other force was used on Alvarez." But the surveillance video shows officers punching Alvarez and slamming him face-first into the car's windshield.

"I'm bleeding," Alvarez told officers as they pull him toward a patrol vehicle. "You're gonna be bleeding a whole lot more," Sgt. Benitez responded.

"Not a single one of those officers reported the incident properly. Not a single one of those officers adhered to the written policy in terms of informing their superiors about the use-of-force. The use of force. The violence. The unlawful acts by Sgt. Benitez were specifically from Benitez' report. They were omitted from Officer Conde's report," said attorney Salfen.

Salfen's civil rights lawsuit against the Palo Alto Police Department claims officers deprived Alvarez of his 4th Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.

Seeking comment, Palo Alto police referred KTVU  to the city manager, who issued a statement that reads in part: "The police department has procedures to investigate allegations of misconduct thoroughly and to hold officers accountable if misconduct is determined to have occurred."

According to police officials, only Benitez is on administrative leave. The others are working their normal shifts.

"These officers have no business being peace officers. They are dishonest. They are violent. They have a veil of secrecy that they've created," said Salfen.

This incident involves only a handful of Palo Alto police officers, and is not an indictment of the entire department. The federal civil rights case is still on going and could take months to either go to trial or reach a settlement.

The charges in the criminal case last year were dropped against Alvarez because the Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled Palo Alto police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop and arrest him for a traffic violation.