Innocent man sues police over arrest

The following was originally published in the Daily Post on March 2.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

A man who was arrested for a felony that he didn’t commit in 2016 has sued the city of Palo Alto for $30 million, alleging a botched police investigation, racial profiling and Islamophobia.

Mahmoud Elsayed, 64, says he was wrongfully accused of smashing a floodlight outside a townhouse that he owns and rents to tenants at 4173 El Camino Real in Palo Alto.

On March 2, 2016, Detective David McAlee and another officer are said to have driven to Elsayed’s home in Santa Clara, handcuffed him and booked him into the Santa Clara County Jail, humiliating and traumatizing him and his family.

Elsayed’s wife Nanette Dumas and their disabled adult daughter, Mashallah Elsayed, are also plaintiffs in the suit filed in U.S. District Court on Monday. In a claim filed with the city on Aug. 8, 2016, Elsayed names former Police Chief Dennis Burns, Capt. Ron Watson and Sgt. Wayne Benitez as responsible parties along with McAlee. The city filed the claim on Sept. 28, 2016.

Missing video

The episode began around 9 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2016, when a neighbor heard loud noises outside the building and saw a man smashing the blinking floodlight with a tennis racket. She told the building owners, Ted and Gerry Sorensen, that she thought the man was her neighbor.

The man renting Elsayed’s townhouse at the time was named Den Bruno.

The floodlight was affixed to an adjacent condo building at 496 W. Charleston Road and shined into the backyard of Elsayed’s townhouse, according to the claim.

Dan Held, a maintenance man for the condo building on Charleston, identified Elsayed from security footage. But Elsayed said he never visited the townhouse that year — he had retained a property management company while leasing it to Bruno.

Elsayed claims that no images were ever copied from the videotape or provided to the police. Held is the only person to have seen the videotape, Elsayed said.

Poor investigation claimed

Moreover, Elsayed said he “did not believe that anyone, particularly a Palo Alto police detective, would think that he would have driven all the way from his Santa Clara home on a Saturday night to break a light fixture at the condominium building, because it made no sense.”

Elsayed said he never met Held and believed the adjacent building’s maintenance man would have no reason to know his name.

Weeks after Elsayed was arrested, Held told police that Bruno looked more like the man in the video than Elsayed did, according to the claim.

Elsayed alleges that McAlee “never made any effort” to contact the property management company or Bruno until late February 2016. He told Elsayed on the phone that he “could not keep this file on (his) desk forever” and that he was “going to have to send the matter to the DA in the next couple of days.”

According to the claim, the normal practice after police issue an arrest warrant would have been for police to contact Elsayed’s attorney, Daniel Mayfield, to arrange for Elsayed to turn himself in with his attorney and post bail.

But police didn’t contact Mayfield before or after the arrest, Elsayed said, and instead drove to his home in Santa Clara at 8:30 p.m. on March 2, 2016 to arrest him in front of his family and neighbors. He was released on $10,000 bail within six hours.

The case was dismissed on April 1, 2016 after Elsayed passed a lie detector test administered by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. His arrest and court records were destroyed, but Elsayed said his family is permanently scarred by the trauma of his arrest.

 

4 Comments

  1. If he gets $30 million, it will come from the city, not the individuals named in the suit, unfortunately. I’d like to see state law changed so that if an officer is proven to have done something like this, he or she loses their pension. I think the threat of losing a pension will keep bad cops in line.

  2. Why would the Palo Alto police devote so much time and resources to the investigation of a minor crime like this? Is this what happens every time a light fixture is damaged in Palo Alto? I have to think something else is going on here — this is a misdemeanor at best. And before they arrested this guy, did the police go to the DA to review the case? I think that’s standard procedure, but the story doesn’t say whether the DA agreed to the arrest or if McAlee was stepping out of bounds. It only says the DA refused to charge after Mr Elsayed passed the polygraph test. I’m not one to believe people every time they scream “racism,” but there is something else going on here that doesn’t make sense.

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