News

Palo Alto police sergeant involved in forceful Buena Vista arrest retires

Suit stemming from arrest accuses Wayne Benitez of using excessive force, failing to report it

Wayne Benitez, the police sergeant who was captured by a surveillance camera slamming a man onto a car hood during an arrest at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, is no longer employed at the Palo Alto Police Department, according to city staff.

City Manager Ed Shikada declined to respond to questions from the Weekly about whether Benitez's departure was voluntary or whether his employment was terminated, calling it an "employee matter."

"We don't comment on circumstances," Shikada said.

Benitez's last day of employment was Sept. 30, according to Human Resources Director Rumi Portillo. CalPERS, the state fund that administers the city's pensions, confirmed that Benitez has retired and will be getting a pension of $9,866.41 per month. Benitez could not be reached for comment.

A department veteran who was hired in 2000 and previously served as president of the city's largest police union, Benitez is among the defendants named in a federal lawsuit filed in April by attorneys for Gustavo Alvarez, a Buena Vista resident who was forcefully arrested near this home in February 2018. Footage of the incident taken by Alvarez's home surveillance system shows police officers asked Alvarez to get out of his unit. When he refused, police informed him that they didn't need a warrant and kicked down his door.

Benitez and two other officers then grabbed Alvarez, pinned him against the hood of a car and cuffed his hands, the video shows. The footage shows Benitez grabbed Alvarez by his jacket hood, slammed him against the car's windshield and asked, "You think you're a tough guy?" When Alvarez said he was bleeding, Benitez responded, "You're going to be bleeding a whole lot more."

The video also shows Benitez after the arrest referring to the fact that Alvarez is gay and suggesting that police officers should put their "foot down" more often and stating that officers are "not going to get sh-- on here by these freaking lowlifes."

The federal lawsuit, which was filed on April 29, argues that officers violated Alvarez's civil rights in the course of arresting him for allegedly driving with a suspended license, resisting arrest, possession of controlled substance paraphernalia and appropriation of lost property — charges that a judge later dismissed.

The force used by Benitez and other officers "was not a good faith effort to maintain or restore order but was applied maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm," the suit states. The lawsuit also notes that Benitez did not mention in his incident report that there was force used during the arrest.

Prior to his departure, Benitez had been on administrative leave, according to the city.

In addition to Benitez, the federal lawsuit suit lists as defendants the city of Palo Alto, Police Chief Robert Jonsen, Officer Christopher Conde, police Agent Thomas DeStefano Jr., Officer Matthew Hubbard and Officer Johnson (whose first name is not included in the suit).

While Shikada declined to comment on the incident, citing a policy of not publicly discussing matters in active litigation, he said in a statement in late July that the Police Department "has procedures to investigate allegations of misconduct thoroughly and to hold officers accountable if misconduct is determined to have occurred."

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I’ve only known Wayne as long as I’ve known my wife Terry Acebo Davis who herself besides being chair of the arts commission when Mitchell Park was built has worked at Stanford for 40 years, most recently as a nurse in the Emergency Department. My understanding is that Wayne Benitez has worked at the hospital as a tech for many years before serving the public as public safety specialist.
So I am in implying but do not know for a fact that despite the cynical tone of your article Wayne Benitez likely has retired after many many years of public service thank you Wayne for your service.
(Ed Shikada meanwhile is a newbie...)


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 16, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

More stonewalling by our city manager? We should at least know whether the departing officer if leaving with his pension and benefits.


23 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Mark Weiss take your blinders off. Benitez has left after a shameful, brutal, unnecessary incident that will likely cost the city a lot of money.


18 people like this
Posted by Zero Tolerance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2019 at 9:40 pm

Excellent news that Sergeant Benitez has been shown the door from the PAPD - the last thing we need is an officer in a leadership position who goes around slamming Palo Altans' heads into windshields, then try to cover it up.

This is not only awful for who he brutalized, but pricey for us taxpayers who will pay for the victim's lawsuit and bad for our town's reputation. He also sent a terrible message of homophobia, ethnic and class hatred toward many of our town's residents based on his comments uttered during this illegal arrest when this brutality happened.

At least he will not be around to repeat or pass on his practices to other officers, and we can hope that if others of Benitez ilk are in PAPD they will shape up or also be out the door.

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Right
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 17, 2019 at 6:52 am

I see a lot of snowflakes.


3 people like this
Posted by Pied Piper
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 17, 2019 at 11:27 am

Pied Piper is a registered user.

@Mark Weiss: Hogwash.


4 people like this
Posted by Sammy
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2019 at 3:29 pm

Since the officer most likely quit before he was terminated, he will keep his pension and benefits. The lawyers will go after the deep pockets, the city.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 17, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

We're paying him $118,000 a year. Not counting whatever we're paying in legal settlements. Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:27 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Jerry
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2019 at 9:56 pm

@ Mark Weiss, You can still support your friend, but to minimize what he did is insulting to the people of this community and the ideals that Police Officers are supposed to stand for. Benitez lost his cool [portion removed.] By supporting Benitez' actions your actually supporting the [conduct] by officers that cause injuries to citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2019 at 12:43 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2019 at 2:07 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Nick Nitro
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2019 at 7:53 am

Sgt Wayne Benitez [portion removed] should be charged with assault and hate crimes.. [portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Harvard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2019 at 9:21 pm

So glad I left Palo Alto. Being an educated person of color is not safe in that city. Despite being in a larger city, the Cambridge police is so much kinder to us.


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