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."