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City of Palo Alto accused of civil rights violation

City sued for ethnic and religious bias after man's arrest

A Santa Clara man and his family are suing the city of Palo Alto after he was arrested for a crime they claim he did not commit, according to a complaint filed this week in federal court.

The case, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, alleges that the Palo Alto Police Department violated the civil rights of 63-year-old Mahmoud Elsayed, under the Constitution's Fourth and 14th amendments, when officers entered his home and arrested him on March 2, 2016.

The lawsuit claims that Elsayed -- who is Middle Eastern by birth and a naturalized American citizen with no criminal record -- became a target because of his ethnicity and Muslim faith. The police only a cursory investigation of the most likely persons to have committed the alleged crime, the suit states. The city was also negligent for not adequately training its officers against violating constitutional rights or committing breaches that amounted to a deliberate indifference to the person's rights.

The lawsuit asks for no less than $30 million for damages, plus attorney's costs and fees, for Elsayed, his wife, Nanette Dumas, and their disabled adult daughter. The suit names Palo Alto police Detective David McAlee, the city of Palo Alto and as-yet-unnamed defendants.

Elsayed's brush with Palo Alto law enforcement began in January 2016 after he was named by a maintenance man as a person who smashed a floodlight at a condominium complex. The condominiums are located behind a townhouse the Elsayeds own.

The couple had lived in the townhouse in the 4100 block of El Camino Real for 11 years but then leased it to a man starting on April 1, 2015, for one year, according to 2016 claim they filed against the city.

On Jan. 9, 2016, a man entered the condominium complex backyard at about 9 p.m. in the 400 block of West Charleston Road and allegedly smashed a floodlight affixed to the wall that had been blinking on and off. A resident at the complex who witnessed the vandalism notified the property owners that she saw a man in the backyard striking the light with a tennis racket. She believed the man was the neighbor who lived in the townhouse, according to the Elsayeds' claim.

Footage from an outside security camera at the condominiums showed the incident, but the image was blurry, according to the claim. A second camera inside the building supposedly clearly showed a man inside the building, who the maintenance man named as "Mahmoud Elsayed." The blurry video was given to the Palo Alto police, but the video from inside the building clearly showing the person purported to be Elsayed was never provided to police and was said to be inadvertently erased, the claim noted.

Elsayed alleges he never met the condominium maintenance man and did not know how he came to know Elsayed's name. The maintenance man claimed he was "crystal clear" that the images from the indoor camera were of Elsayed, whom he had seen "numerous times" during the past two years from the backyard of the condominium complex and had spoken to once or twice.

But Palo Alto police did not thoroughly investigate the tenant who was living in the townhouse, nor whether any other person might have been at the home when the incident occurred, according to the claim.

Unknown to the Elsayeds at the time, the tenant had been subletting the townhouse through Airbnb, which violated his lease agreement. On Jan. 27, 2016, when Detective McAlee went to the townhouse in search of Elsayed, he was met by persons who said they were Airbnb guests. Although McAlee attempted that day to reach the tenant through the cellphone number provided by the Airbnb guests, he could not reach him. When he finally reached the tenant at the end of February, the tenant denied he had broken the light, according to the claim.

But meanwhile, McAlee had reached Elsayed after sending the Santa Clara police to his home. Elsayed called the detective and repeatedly told McAlee they had not been living at the townhouse for nearly a year and had a tenant living there. They explained they had not had any direct contact with the tenant, leaving all communications to the property manager, Midtown Realty. Elsayed's attorney also explained to McAlee that the townhouse had a tenant and that it had been sublet through Airbnb without the Elsayeds' knowledge.

Elsayed also had no reason to drive to the townhouse from his Santa Clara home at 9 p.m. when the incident occurred, according to the claim. The couple is certain they were at home when the incident occurred, they told police. McAlee at the time would not discuss why Elsayed was being scrutinized, and the couple only learned later about the broken light after receiving a demand letter for payment from the condominium owner.

Elsayed alleges that the police showed bias by treating him and the tenant unequally during the investigation.

Elsayed also does not match the description the female witness gave to police of a Caucasian man of medium build and in his 40s. The maintenance man said the person in the video was balding, in his 50s, wearing glasses, about 5 feet and 9 inches to 5 feet and 11 inches tall and weighing about 220 pounds.

Elsayed is 63, 5 feet and 8 inches tall, weighs about 225 pounds and has a mustache. The tenant is Caucasian, 61 years old, 5 feet and 7 inches tall and weighs about 200 pounds.

On March 2, 2016, McAlee and another officer arrested Elsayed at his Santa Clara home for felony vandalism, handcuffing him in front of his home and neighbors. The Elsayed's disabled daughter became hysterical and could not stop screaming, according to the claim. Elsayed later passed a lie detector test, which he took on the advice of his attorney.

His lawyer submitted the lie-detector results to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and explained that Elsayed had been arrested and charged in error. The district attorney's office had the case dismissed during Elsayed's April 2016 arraignment, and the court granted Elsayed's attorney's request to seal and destroy his arrest and court records. The court entered a written order to that effect on April 20, 2016.

But Elsayed and his family say they are still experiencing trauma. He has frequent nightmares involving his arrest and imprisonment and he is often depressed. The family fears and distrusts the police and no longer feels secure in their home, according to the claim. Their disabled daughter was particularly affected by the arrest, and the family feels anxiety every time there is a knock at the door, they said. The Elsayeds say their neighbors now look away from them and no longer wave when they come and go from their home, according to the claim.

Palo Alto police spokesman Zach Perron referred a request for comment to the City Attorney's office. Molly Stump, city attorney, could not immediately be reached.

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Comments

8 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 3, 2018 at 10:33 am

[Post removed.]


34 people like this
Posted by frankie
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2018 at 11:25 am

Not at all convincing.

Their claim is "that Elsayed -- who is Middle Eastern by birth and a naturalized American citizen with no criminal record -- became a target because of his ethnicity and Muslim faith."

No. Police pursued him because -- "The maintenance man claimed he was "crystal clear" that the images from the indoor camera were of Elsayed, whom he had seen "numerous times" during the past two years from the backyard of the condominium complex and had spoken to once or twice."

I'm not saying Mr. Elsayed did anything, of course. An arrest is not a charge. A charge is not a conviction. But unless there's more to the story, we should go to the mat to ensure he doesn't get a penny from this claim.


15 people like this
Posted by JD
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 10:28 pm

According the Daily Post interim chief Watson and former Chief Dennis Burns are named in the lawsuit so why does the Palo Alto weekly conceal them from the story?


26 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2018 at 11:48 pm

His mistake is claiming racism, which is difficult to prove even if true. He should claim police incompetence and no probable cause for this arrest, which seems pretty obvious to me.


14 people like this
Posted by XDM
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2018 at 6:41 am

I'm always in favor of the police. But this was not handled correctly. Lost video.
Come on. Cover up. Pay up.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 7:43 am

I can understand why Mr. Elsayed thought he must have been singled out because of his religion or ethnicity or -something-. Because, what else would explain why he wasn't just handed a summons? Instead, he got the short version of the "perp walk". He's just lucky that they didn't call in the national TV networks.

What Mr. Elsayed didn't realize is that there is no rational explanation for this unnecessary police custom.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 5, 2018 at 8:16 am

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 5, 2018 at 8:52 am

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 9:24 am

We are continually told by the media, by security experts, that if we see something to say something. This is the exact reason to stop people doing so. Someone seeing something unusual by anyone and telling the police is supposed to be the right thing to do. Of course, nine times out of ten these will be innocent people with innocent activities, but is it up to us to work that out or the police?

It is part of the age in which we live that everybody has to be alert and to report anything that we see as possibly suspicious. Stories like this will make people reluctant to do so. Do we want to be the ones who don't report something unusual and the attack occurs which just might have been prevented if someone had said something? I don't think so.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 5, 2018 at 3:03 pm

30 million, oh come on, get real.
30 thousand maybe.


11 people like this
Posted by RS
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2018 at 3:46 pm

There are people that have certain prejudiced that are more than willing to point the finger at someone even though they know that they are not being truthful. Police should have seen the second video for themselves before arresting this man in front of his family. Maybe not 30 mil but 5 Mil yes.


20 people like this
Posted by comeonpolice
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:58 am

Simply bad police work. Relying on an eyewitness, which are notoriously unreliable (see making a murderer rape conviction), over a preponderance of contrary evidence is ridiculous. How can they expend this much energy (arrest in another jurisdiction) on a few hundred dollar crime when so little is done about car breakins where thousands are stolen? May not be racism but a sure abuse of power or imcompetence. Really couldn't they just ask the guy (apparently no police record) to report to the police rather than a perp walk? PAPD needs to do some serious risk/reward analysis for police violence during minor crime investigations.


Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 10, 2018 at 10:39 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Atherton
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 13, 2018 at 9:28 am

[Post removed.]


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