BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Palo Alto Police Department’s Tom DeStefano, who was just named in a $3.8 million police brutality claim, was one of the officers accused in a lawsuit five years ago of breaking a man’s arm during a 2013 traffic stop.
The city settled that suit for $250,000 after the man’s attorney started investigating the police department’s claim that two of its dash cams malfunctioned during the arrest.
In that lawsuit, Tyler Harney claimed he had a seizure after officers stopped the car in which he was a passenger on Greer Road around noon on Aug. 3, 2013. Rather than trying to help Harney, officers allegedly threw him to the ground, pulling his arm behind him and breaking it.
Harney’s injury required multiple surgeries and resulted in permanent nerve damage and diminished function, his attorney, David Helbraun, said in 2016.
Video footage from patrol car cameras might have helped the court determine what really happened. But the dashboard cameras apparently weren’t working at the time.
The city said in the court filing that it made every effort to preserve evidence in the case, but that cameras in both officers’ cars malfunctioned during that car stop.
Evidence tampering question raised
Harney subpoenaed Kustom Signals Inc., which manufactured and sold police-car dashcams to the Palo Alto Police Department, for information to help his own expert determine if police had tampered with the cameras. But the city said that information was privileged and didn’t want to turn it over.
On Jan. 29, Judge Howard Lloyd ruled that Kustom had to produce the evidence Harney sought, opening the door to the question of whether the police destroyed the videos.
A few days later, the city and Harney reached a tentative settlement, which was approved by City Council on Feb. 16, 2016.
On Feb. 17, 2018, a camera was working when Palo Alto police Sgt. Wayne Benitez slammed Buena Vista Mobile Home Park resident Gustavo Alvarez on the hood of a car and mocked him for being gay. The incident was captured on Alvarez’s home security camera.
Among the officers who accompanied Benitez was DiStefano, according to Alvarez’s lawsuit.
Alvarez sued Palo Alto and the city settled this month for $572,000.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office said in August that it was gathering information to decide whether to open an investigation into the incident, which could possibly result in charges against Benitez.
Latest complaint against DeStefano
As the Post reported on Wednesday, DeStefano is named in another police misconduct complaint.
Julio Arevalo said in a claim filed last week that his civil rights were violated by Palo Alto officers and that he was “violently attacked” by Agent Thomas DeStefano on July 10. He is seeking $3.8 million.
Police logs say that Arevalo was arrested at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, 3980 El Camino Real, and was booked into jail for being under the influence of drugs and other drug charges.
Arevalo alleges that he was falsely arrested and that DeStefano included false information in his police report of the incident. Arevalo also said that he was denied proper medical care and has suffered pain and emotional distress because of the incident.
A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Once a claim is filed, the city has six months to investigate the allegations and decide whether to settle the matter or deny it. If the claim is denied, the plaintiff is free to take the city to court.
Asked whether DeStefano was put on leave, police spokeswoman Janine De La Vega said only that DeStefano is currently employed by the city.
DeStefano, who has the rank of agent — which is between officer and sergeant — makes $280,000 a year, including fringe benefits.