PALO ALTO, Calif. - A retired Palo Alto police sergeant, 62-year-old Wayne Benitez is facing criminal charges. He’s accused of assaulting a man in handcuffs, and then lying on a police report back in 2018. If convicted, the former officer could face two years in jail.
Gustavo Alvaraz, the man Benitez is accused of assaulting, was given half a million dollars from a civil lawsuit settlement with the city after suffering broken teeth and a concussion. Alvarez felt criminal charges needed to be pursued against the retired officer and others.
“When I opened the door there was a gun in my face it was really scary,” said Alvarez.
After kicking open the front door, Palo Alto Police detain Alvarez outside his Palo Alto mobile home in February 2018. Police suspected Alvarez was driving on a suspended license.
Surveillance video shows officers throw Alvarez on the hood of his car. Officer Benitez is then seen slamming Alvarez’s face on the windshield.
“He’s charged because he used more force than was necessary and in this case, no force was needed,” said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Jason Malinsky.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announcing two misdemeanor charges against the 62-year-old former officer, assault under the color of authority and lying on a police report. The D.A.’s Office said he made no mention of use of force.
“Finally, there’s justice,” said Alvarez. “I thought maybe that it's not going to happen, just happy to find out.”
Benitez retired last year after 20 years with the department. Alvarez’s attorney alleges the assault was motivated because of his client's sexual orientation.
“After Gustavo was arrested, there was dialogue that was recorded on the officers’s body worn microphones where they were mimicking and mocking Gustavo for being gay,” said Alvarez’s attorney Cody Salfen.
The district attorney’s office said there was no evidence of a hate crime but as part of the civil lawsuit, officers are now required to complete LGBTQ sensitivity training.
In a statement to KTVU, Benitez's attorney Harry Stern writes, “Wayne Benitez has already been thoroughly punished for his run in with career criminal Gustavo Alvarez back in 2018. In an unfortunate end to an excellent career, Wayne resigned earlier than planned and apologized.”
The statement went on to say the district attorney’s office had originally notified them they weren't charging Benitez but then flip-flopped.
Palo Alto’s police chief released a statement supporting the district attorney’s decision. Meantime, Gustavo Alvarez has moved out of Palo Alto. He does not feel safe.
Alvarez believes other officers who handcuffed him that night should be charged. The district attorney’s office would not comment on any ongoing investigations.