DA considering whether to open an investigation into police assault allegations

Sgt. Wayne Benitez, left, slams Gustavo Alvarez on the hood of a car during a confrontation on Feb. 17, 2018, on home surveillance video provided by Alvarez’s lawyer.

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is gathering information to decide if it will open an investigation into Palo Alto police Sgt. Wayne Benitez after a video surfaced showing him slamming the head of a Buena Vista Mobile Home Park resident who was arrested for driving on a suspended license.

It is not uncommon for the District Attorney’s Office to seek more information about police misconduct allegations before fully investigating, spokesman Sean Webby said Tuesday (Aug. 6).

Benitez, along with four other officers and the city of Palo Alto, is being sued by Buena Vista resident Gustavo Alvarez, who alleges excessive force.

On July 23, Alvarez’s attorney, Cody Salfen, released security camera footage from Alvarez’s home security camera showing Benitez roughing up Alvarez.

About a minute into the video of the Feb. 17, 2018, incident, Benitez says to Alvarez, “So you think you’re a tough guy?” and then slams his head into the windshield. Police accused Alvarez of driving while his license was suspended.

The suit also claims the officers mocked Alvarez for being gay.

Benitez has been placed on leave. However, any further information such as when Benitez was placed on leave and if he is on paid leave or not, was not provided to the Post.

The Post had requested that information on July 24, and on Monday received a response that “the city cannot release further records pertaining to Sgt. Benitez’ administrative leave,” citing two laws that prohibit the sharing of police personnel records.

The incident at Buena Vista occurred on Feb. 17, 2018 and Benitez had been on the job as recently as March 30.

Alvarez alleges that Officer Christopher Conde approached Alvarez while he was standing in the driveway of his mobile home and told him that he had seen him driving while his license was suspended. Alvarez disputed that, and said Conde didn’t see him driving on a street or check his license status before detaining him.

Conde then called for backup and was joined by Sgt. Wayne Benitez, Agent Thomas Alan DeStefano Jr. and officers Thomas Hubbard and “Johnson” — the suit doesn’t identify the last officer’s first name.

Police then slammed Alvarez onto the front hood and windshield of his 2002 Ford Focus, and assaulted him as they searched him, his home and car.

Alvarez claims that Benitez, 61, punched him in the back while he was face down on the hood of his car, slapped him on the side of the face and yelled at him to shut up.

Benitez is also accused of going into a “fit of rage” and grabbing the handcuffed Alvarez before slamming his face and body onto the hood of his car while asking, “So you think you’re a tough guy?”

This allegedly knocked Alvarez’s tooth loose, which he said he later pulled out in jail because he was afraid to ask for medical care. When he complained that he was bleeding, Benitez yelled, “You’re gonna be bleeding a whole lot more.”

The suit states that officers mocked and humiliated him for being gay while he was in their custody.

Alvarez and someone else off camera repeatedly asked officers if they had a warrant. They said they didn’t need one.

Alvarez was booked into Santa Clara County Jail that night on suspicion of DUI, driving while his license was suspended or revoked for DUI, resisting arrest and possessing both drug paraphernalia and lost property.

Charges from that night were dismissed.

Police logs show that three weeks before the incident, Alvarez was cited on suspicion of driving with a suspended license on Vista Avenue at El Camino Real.

Seven felony complaints and 11 misdemeanor complaints have been filed against Alvarez in Santa Clara County Superior Court in the last 20 years.

In July 2012, Alvarez was arrested for allegedly breaking the skylight at JJ&F at 520 College Ave. and rappelling into the store using a black satellite dish cable as a rope.

In April 2013, Alvarez was arrested on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia, driving on a suspended license and on a warrant.

In May 2018, he was arrested at home on suspicion of drug intoxication and possessing drug paraphernalia and drugs for sale.

Alvarez was arrested on warrants from outside police agencies in September 2017, December 2017 and March 2019.

Benitez also has a legal history. He was named in another police lawsuit against the city filed by Mahmoud Elsayed, 65, who said 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.

Elsayed alleges police botched their investigation, racially profiled him and exhibited Islamaphobia. The lawsuit names former Police Chief Dennis Burns, former Capt. Ron Watson, Detective David McAlee and Sgt. Benitez. The suit is still pending.

5 Comments

  1. I realize the purpose of this story was to drum up sympathy for Alvarez, but he’s no saint. Look at his arrest record, he should have been in prison. He should have been in prison for the JJ&F burglary all by itself.

  2. I’m not feeling any sympathy for this guy. I don’t think the cop should have hit him, but he’s lucky to even be out on the streets with that record. A fair settlement would be to pay him for the dental work re: his lost tooth and $50 for getting hit. Anything more would be a rip-off of the taxpayers. And the cop who hit him should get a strongly worded letter of reprimand in his work file!!!

    • Wow you wonderful gentlemen must be law enforcement…if the person who perpetrated the assault wasn’t a police officer or even if he was an officer and the victim in question didn’t have a criminal history then the comments would be calling for the perpetrator’s arrest.

      The fact that the victim has a criminal history does not in any way, shape or form make it okay for an officer, a person entrusted by the public to do their job without personal judgement or bias, to assault anyone.

      The fact that the victim of this assault had a criminal record does not make what the officer did okay. The way the officer acted shows a lack of patience, it shows an abuse of power and it show’s the absolute arrogance of the officer in thinking that his behavior is justifiable because the victim had a criminal record. And the blame for the officer feeling entitled partially falls on people like you who have posted that the assault is justified due to the victim having a criminal record.

      THAT IS NOT OKAY!

      Police officers are just like everybody else, they put their pants on one leg at a time. They are given a position of power and are entrusted to make the right decisions in regards to detaining and/or arresting suspect’s. They have no right to let their ego reign in a situation and assume that because this person has a criminal history their actions should be allowed.

      That’s what our “justice system” is supposed to be for, right? We’re all supposed to be assumed innocent until proven guilty right? So just because someone may have been guilty of something in the past doesn’t mean that they are automatically guilty of the crime alleged and even if they were guilty of the crime alleged, what right does the officer have assaulting this man?

      Who gave this officer the right to be both judge and jury? NO ONE!

      You know what the difference is between an officer and an inmate? The inmate’s been caught at whatever illegal activity they were caught at, the officer has not. No one is perfect and everyone has committed some type of crime whether it’s speeding, driving drunk, smoking weed or whatever; everyone at one time in their life has done something illegal and/or unethical the only difference is some people get caught while others don’t.

      So with that being said how does the fact that the victim has a criminal record make it okay for the officer, who is entrusted in a position of power, to become both judge and jury for this alleged crime to the extent that he can punish this person who isn’t even convicted of the alleged crime?

      To allow this officer to get away with his behavior makes a mockery of our justice system and would send the message that it’s okay for our trusted servants to violate the laws they’re sworn to uphold because they felt they didn’t have to follow any laws because as an officer they’re above them. That’s not okay! Despite being a police officer they still have to follow the same laws as everyone else.

      I don’t believe that this officers behavior is okay and think that he should be charged for this assault and lose his job and pension just like anyone else would’ve been.

      Being a police officer should not absolve him from a crime that any other person would be facing not being part of law enforcement and honestly I feel that maybe the charges should be more severe due to the fact that he is abusing his authority. But that’s just my thoughts…all you folks can now tear it apart assign blame to the victim as usual….

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