Stephen Ellison

City Settles Civil Rights Suit Filed by Palo Alto Man Arrested in February 2018

A settlement has been reached in a civil rights lawsuit in Palo Alto following the violent arrest in February 2018 involving a gay man who alleged officers used excessive force and mocked his homosexuality.

Part of the terms of the $572,500 settlement require every officer in the Palo Alto Police Department to undergo two hours of "LGBTQ awareness training."

Additionally, the supervising officer from the incident, Sgt. Wayne Benitez, has to write an apology to Gustavo Alvarez, the man they arrested. The District Attorney also is considering criminal charges against Benitez.

Surveillance video from Alvarez's home shows Palo Alto officers pulling from his home after an officer suspected Alvarez was driving on a suspended license. They slammed him against a car, and at one point, Benitez can be seen slamming Alvarez's head into the car's windshield. Benitez's body-worn microphone also captures the officer appearing to mock Alvarez for being gay.

"The peace officers who were involved in this situation have no business being peace officers," said Cody Salfen, attorney for Alvarez.

Despire the violent arrest, no use-of-force report was filed after the arrest, an apparent violation of department policy. All charges against Alvarez were dismissed, then he sued the city.

The Palo Alto City Council this week approved the $572,000 settlement.

"They very clearly committed crimes on camera in the course and scope of their job as a police officer," Salfen said. "That's indicative of an agency that failed to take action, failed to properly discipline (Benitez)."

The mandatory LGBTQ sensitivity training is something advocates say should only be the start for the police department.

Gabrielle Antolovich of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center said these actions should follow: "Starting a committee. Working with the community. Working with the LGBTQ community in Palo Alto. Get feedback and have an ongoing dialogue."

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