BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
It’s bad enough that a veteran Palo Alto police sergeant slammed a handcuffed man into a car windshield and mocked him for being gay.
But it’s worse when two other officers seemed to celebrate the attack in electronic messages they exchanged after the beatdown.
In the messages, Agent Thomas DeStefano said: “You missed out — the fuse was lit tonight!”
By “the fuse,” DeStefano meant now retired Sgt. Wayne Benitez.
Officer Kevin Mullarkey: “That’s my favorite thing ever … I saw it go off before when I was brand new and I was like this is what it’s like in Los Angeles.”
DeStefano: “Yup … it happened tonight.”
Mullarkey: “Amazing … I love it … that’s a 100% real cop right there.”
The first instinct of a good cop should be to report this kind of attack. It shouldn’t matter if the perpetrator outranks you. You’ve just witnessed a crime. Do your sworn duty!
The messages came to light in a motion the District Attorney’s office filed to obtain personnel records of Palo Alto police officers to be used in the trial of Benitez on misdemeanor charges of assault and filing a false police report over the 2018 incident.
A home video surveillance system caught Benitez repeatedly slamming Gustavo Alvarez into a car as other officers watched. Alvarez sued the city and the civil case was settled for $572,500. Now the criminal case is playing out in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Benitez has retired and is awaiting trial. DeStefano left the department earlier this year after a number of questionable incidents. Mullarkey is still on the department’s roster.
Why are we learning about these texts now, 3½ years after the fact? I thought Palo Alto had an independent police auditor to investigate incidents like this and report back to the City Council and public?
Keep the public informed
Police Chief Robert Jonsen should have publicly disclosed these texts as soon as he saw them, and then assured the public he would be taking action.
We’ve seen this pattern of police hiding information before.
On June 25, 2020, the police dog of Palo Alto police Agent Nick Enberg brutally attacked a man sleeping in his Mountain View backyard. Instead of revealing the incident publicly, police went silent. It only came to light months later when the Post obtained the legal claim the man’s attorney filed.
Again, police should have disclosed this when it happened and told the public what they intended to do in order to stop it from recurring.
I can’t pin this philosophy of keeping the public in the dark entirely on Chief Jonsen. This has been going on for a long time at city hall. It was the city administration, HR department and city attorney who decided not to reveal the fact that Capt. Zach Perron
used the n-word in front of a black officer in 2014.
Instead of leveling with the public, the city kept the incident hidden until the Post revealed it in 2019.
Once again, it looked like the city was trying to hide something.
Public trust at risk
This secretive attitude doesn’t foster trust in police. I’m not for defunding the police. If anything, I’m willing to pay cops more money to encourage high-quality, professional work. And I think most of the cops in Palo Alto do a good job. But why would anyone trust a police officer who thinks a “real cop” beats a handcuffed man?
This text message exchange needs to be addressed. Council should make sure of that.
Council should push police to shift from secrecy to transparency. The decision to encrypt the historically public police radio frequencies is another example of the loss of transparency. Especially since there is a perfectly legal alternative to encryption that the CHP is using — an alternative that won’t cost the city any money and keeps the airwaves open.
Un-encrypted radios is a subtle way of telling police that somebody is looking over their shoulder, so they need to behave professionally.
In saying all of this, I should note that the department is trying to take steps in the right direction. Police have embarked on a program to send mental health professionals out with officers to respond to situations involving people suffering from psychiatric crises.
That’s good, but more needs to be done to restore confidence in police. A shift to transparency is needed. Jonsen should go public with any other police incidents involving his officers so that the public has assurance that he’s trying to clean things up.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is email@example.com.
Chief Jonsen must have known about the thin blue line and the police culture of secrecy. When cops commit crimes, nobody speaks about it. It’s part of their sacred tradition. Too bad nobody oversees the police department in this town, but the city council is too lame to even ask any questions.