Woman sues police after her arm is broken during an arrest

Officer Douglas Vanbibber tells two women to leave Pizza My Heart after employees called the police on them. Screenshot from a video released by the Palo Alto Police Department.

Correction: The version of this story that was printed on May 10 contained errors that have been corrected below. The story misidentified the police officer in the photo. The officer is Officer Douglas Vanbibber. Some quotes were also incorrectly attributed to Vanbibber when they were said by Officer Ian Johson, and vice versa.

BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer

A woman who broke her wrist while a police officer was handcuffing her at Pizza My Heart has filed a lawsuit against the city of Palo Alto alleging that Officer Ian Johnson “violently” grabbed her and shoved her into a wall as part of a pattern of excessive force. 

The incident was recorded on video and released by the department under a new state law before the lawsuit was filed. 

Valeria Alejandra Hernandez said that she had to get surgery and suffered from a condition known as “dropped wrist syndrome” due to nerve damage. Hernandez said she still has to wear a wrist brace and has trouble doing basic tasks, like driving. She also suffered from a concussion, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Daniel Sharpe on April 16. 

Hernandez is suing the city, Pizza My Heart, Johnson and Officer Douglas Vanbibber. 

The incident started around 3 p.m. on Nov. 3. 

Hernandez said she and her friend, Elizabeth Torres, met up for lunch on University Avenue. 

Hernandez said she was experiencing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, so she went straight to the bathroom at Pizza My Heart, while Torres washed her hands. An employee then knocked on the bathroom door and said they had entered the men’s bathroom and needed to leave, according to the lawsuit. 

Torres said they were almost done and that she identifies as nonbinary, the lawsuit said. 

Hernandez said that before they could walk out of the restaurant, Johnson and Officer Douglas Vanbibber came inside. 

Officers met the two women by the bathrooms and told them to leave, while Hernandez and Torres tried to explain themselves, video shows. 

Vanbibber told Hernandez that she had two options: “You’re either going to go to jail for being drunk in public, or you’re going to get your stuff and leave.” 

Hernandez said in the video that she would leave, but she didn’t make her way toward the door, video shows. 

Torres said her boyfriend is a deputy and that she respects police officers. 

“Then stop talking, be respectful and leave,” Vanbibber said. “Do you not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” 

Vanbibber then went to handcuff Hernandez while she was talking to Johnson, video shows. 

Johnson told Hernandez to stop resisting as he locked the handcuffs on her wrist. Hernandez said she wanted to check if she had her phone and keys. 

Vanbibber handcuffed Torres at the same time, video shows. 

Hernandez said in her lawsuit that Vanbibber didn’t use any force. 

“Sadly, Johnson took a very different approach,” the lawsuit said. 

After they were handcuffed, one of the officers called for paramedics over the radio to treat a broken arm. 

Vanbibber asked if the women had any weapons or knives. 

“Are you guys going to cut us?” he asked.
Then he and Johnson escorted both women outside of the restaurant, and the video ends. 

The California Legislature required police departments in 2019 to start releasing body camera footage when an officer’s use of force results in a death or a significant injury. 

Paramedics took Hernandez to Stanford Hospital, where she received a splint for her wrist, the suit said. Sgt. Dave Lee visited her at the hospital and gave her a citation, suggesting that her arrest was retroactively deemed a detention, the suit said. 

Hernandez said police never sent a case to prosecutors, and she is claiming that officers made a false arrest. 

She said she went to San Mateo Medical Center two days later for ongoing headaches. 

Hernandez underwent surgery on Nov. 21 and is still going to physical therapy, the suit said. 

“The Palo Alto Police Department knew or should have known that Johnson had a history of using unjustified, excessive, and violent force on private citizens,” the lawsuit said. 

Johnson has been named in at least two lawsuits alleging excessive force that were settled by the city. 

He was on the scene when Agent Nick Enberg ordered a police dog to bite a man who was sleeping in his backyard in the middle of the night on June 25, 2020. 

Mountain View police officers were searching for a kidnapper and called in Enberg and his dog for backup. 

Johnson’s body camera recorded the dog bite as he entered the backyard behind Enberg. 

The city paid the victim $135,000 to settle his lawsuit in January 2022. 

Johnson was also on the scene at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park when Sgt. Wayne Benitez slammed a handcuffed man into the hood of a windshield, allegedly knocking out resident Gustavo Alvarez’s teeth on Feb. 17, 2018. 

A conversation between Johnson and Officer Mat- thew Hubbard was recorded after the violent arrest and described in a report by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. 

Hubbard: Something finally happened. 

Johnson: I know we can actually do something for once. Changing of the guard around here. 

Hubbard: Only because we have a new chief. So we can actually be cops again. 

The conversation occurred a month after Chief Bob Jonsen was hired in Palo Alto. 

Jonsen was elected as Santa Clara County sheriff in November 2022 and was replaced by Chief Andrew Binder, who is now in his second year in charge. 

Johnson searched Alvarez’s car 20 minutes after the conversation with Hubbard, the DA’s report said. 

“Let’s see what kind of disgusting stuff he has in here,” Johnson said, according to the DA’s report. The city’s police auditor, Mike Gennaco, reviewed the incident at Buena Vista in a report published last month. 

Gennaco called the incident at Buena Vista “a low point for the PAPD.” 

The city paid Alvarez $572,500 to drop his lawsuit. 

Gennaco said Johnson’s comment, even though not communicated to a member of the public, was “entirely inappropriate.”
“If PAPD has not addressed the impropriety of this comment with (Johnson), it should certainly do so,” Gennaco said in a report released last month. 

Johnson was hired in Palo Alto in 2015. He received $160,851 plus benefits in 2022, according to the city’s employee pay database. 

Capt. James Reifschneider said on Wednesday the department completed a use of force investigation into the Pizza My Heart incident after it occurred, but the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment via email.

1 Comment

  1. Getting drunk, refusing to leave a restaurant when asked, and forcing them to call the cops on you, is seldom a good idea.

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