The City of Palo Alto is paying several million dollars in a settlement against a gay man who was mistreated by police.
The original suit, which asked for 10 million, was filed in April of 2018. But, the actual arrest involving one gay man and several police officers happened in February of 2018.
Gustavo Alvarez was inside his home at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park when police broke down his door, dragged him outside, handcuffed him, and arrested him on charges of driving with a suspended license. Charges that were later dropped.
On top of that, the entire incident was caught on surveillance camera. This includes one officer, Sgt. Wayne Benitez, slamming Alvarez’s face on the windshield, while Alvarez is handcuffed. That exact moment led to Alvarez’s lip being cut open and the loosening of a tooth.
In addition, audio of the incident was also recorded. Benitez’s own microphone recorded the group mocking Alvarez’s sexuality and tone of voice.
“See how much they behave when we put our foot down? We’re not gonna get s— on out here by these frickin’ low lives,” Benitez said in the clip.
“He’s gay. (laughter) And then Dad was behind him. ‘You guys go away!’” Benitez said.
According to CBS San Francisco, Alvarez then sued the Palo Alto Police Department and city of Palo Alto for his mistreatment. This eventually led to the city paying Alvarez $572,500. The entire department also has to go through two hours of LGBTQ sensitivity training starting January 2020, and Benitez, who has since retired and will receive a $9,866 monthly pension, has to make a public apology to Alvarez.
That said, the City of Palo Alto released a statement about the settlement that appears to show they haven’t learned their lesson.
“To minimize the burden and expense of federal litigation, the City Council has elected to settle the claims of Plaintiff Gustavo Alvarez arising out of a police-related incident which occurred in February 2018. While the City and Police Department sharply dispute the vast majority of Mr. Alvarez’ claims and have deep concerns about Mr. Alvarez’ continuing criminal behavior, the City believes that this resolution is in the best interests of all involved – including the Police Department, its police officers, and Mr. Alvarez.
Key settlement terms including a monetary settlement of $572,500 to Mr. Alvarez and his attorneys, a public apology from Mr. Benitez (former sergeant with the Palo Alto Police Department) and sworn police officer training scheduled for January 2020.
The Police Department is continuing its own internal investigation of the incident and since that investigation remains pending, the City cannot comment further at this time.”
Alvarez’s attorney, Cody Salfen, called this response from the city “victim blaming.”
“I think that’s a pure form of victim blaming. They can’t deny what’s in that video. They can’t deny the actions of those police officers,” said Salfen. “And for them to come out now and say they ‘dispute’ the causes of action that we put forward in the lawsuit, it’s disingenuous’”