Palo Alto police release video of K-9 attacking wrong man

The Palo Alto Police Department released a video this week showing a Mountain View man attacked by mistake by a K-9. The man is now filing a claim against the city as he was wrongfully targeted as a domestic violence suspect. 

Joel Alejo is seeking damages totaling $20 million from the police department, the Palo Alto Weekly reported.

In a statement, Palo Alto police acknowledged that Alejo, whom they did not mention by name, ended up being the wrong man and the city's Independent Police Auditor is now reviewing the case, which occurred on June 25, 2020. The dog bit the man for nearly a minute before an officer ordered it to stop and pulled the animal away.

Palo Alto police said they were called to help Mountain View police find a man suspected of felony domestic violence and kidnapping, who fled into a neighborhood. Once they entered a neighbor's yard, they found what turned out to be Alejo on the ground inside a storage shed. They thought he was the suspect and detained him with their K-9, police said.

It wasn't clear why Alejo was in the shed. The neighbor later told Mountain View police that they didn't realize one of their relatives — Alejo — was in the backyard.

Afterward, Palo Alto police said, "further investigation revealed the person was not the suspect and in fact was not connected to the criminal incident that prompted the search."

According to the Mountain View Police Department, which also released camera footage and a statement on Tuesday, officers were looking for a man who had allegedly kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and then drove away with her in a stolen car before pushing her out of the car, taking her phone and running away. Police searched the 1000 block of Elsie Avenue, where they say the victim had been found. 

Alejo, 37, filed a complaint last December, stating he has suffered "extreme pain, bleeding, bruising and other damages." The complaint also seeks damages for "wrongful detention, false imprisonment, emotional distress, fear, terror, anxiety, humiliation, loss of sense of security, dignity and pride."

His complaint seeks $500,000 for medical damages, $500,000 for loss of earnings, $4 million for future general damages and $15 million in "exemplary damages," the Palo Alto Weekly reported.

The complaint notes that the police did not have a warrant for his arrest and that the attack did not occur in defense of a peace officer or any other person.

"Nonetheless, the Police K-9 dog was instructed to and commanded to viciously attack and maul the claimant, causing severe and permanent injuries."

The video is taken largely from the body cameras of officers Ian Johnson and Nick Enberg. The camera shows the police approaching the shed, with Enberg and the police dog leading the way. The dog immediately clamps his teeth on Alejo, who had been sleeping and can be heard crying as the dog mauls his leg. Alejo can be seen covering his head with his hands while Enberg and others yell commands at the dog as he and other officers attempt to restrain the canine.

Enberg was one of two officers who fatally shot a mentally ill man police said had a knife and charged at officers on Christmas night in 2015.

Enberg was also one of several officers named in an excessive force lawsuit brought against the city by the mother of a teenager mauled by a police dog. The city settled the case for $250,000 in 2018, according to the Palo Alto Weekly.

After pulling the dog off Alejo, Johnson and Engberg then took him into custody.

On July 17, officers located the alleged kidnapper on the first block of West El Camino Real and arrested him on suspicion of kidnapping, robbery, knowingly possessing stolen property and possession of a stolen vehicle.