By the Daily Post staff
Retired Palo Alto police sergeant Wayne Benitez was charged today with the assault of a man at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park that was caught on video.
Benitez, 62, who has since retired, slammed the face of a handcuffed arrestee, Gustavo Alvarez, against the windshield of Alvarez’s car and mocked him for being gay.
Then, according to the district attorney, Benitez filed a false police report about the Feb. 17, 2018, incident.
The city of Palo Alto paid $572,000 to Alvarez to settle a lawsuit over the beating.
The settlement also required Benitez to publicly apologize to Alvarez and the Police Department agreed to give its officers LGBTQ sensitivity training.
If convicted of assault under the color of authority and lying on a police report, Benitez would face up to two years in jail.
“Peace officers who use more force than necessary hurt more than the person they are trying to arrest,” said District Attorney Jeff Rosen. “They damage the deservedly excellent reputations of the vast majority of officers who work every shift to help people. And they strain the bonds with their communities who expect and deserve that police officers will protect and serve them fairly and professionally.”
Reviewed by the DA’s newly-formed Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team, the incident happened at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park on Feb. 17, 2018.
That night, Sgt. Benitez was among a group of officers taking into custody a man on suspicion for driving with a suspended license. Benitez was caught on a security camera striking the man twice as he was being handcuffed and then slamming his face into a car windshield.
After the arrest, Benitez’s body-worn microphone captured the officer saying: “See how quickly they behave once we put our foot down?” Benitez can be heard saying to another officer, “And that’s what we don’t do enough of.”
The DA said there was no mention of that force in Benitez’s report about the incident. In fact, Benitez wrote that the only force that was used was to pull the victim from the trailer. “No other force was used,” Benitez wrote. The video and audio did not come to light until the following year.
Alvarez, 39, was charged with suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed by the DA’s Office.
The DA’s office said that while Benitez has been charged, he hasn’t been arrested yet. His bail will be zero because the Sheriff’s Department is trying to keep the jail population down due to the pandemic. It wasn’t immediately known when he would make his first appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court.