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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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No person is above the law, including police officers.

Uploaded: Nov 25, 2019
No man is above the law.

We’ve heard that phrase repeatedly in recent weeks applied to Pres. Donald Trump as the Congressional House hearings on his impeachment got underway.

But I also believe that “the no man is above the law” tenet applies to the many police wrongdoings in California that have gone unpunished and without officers serving jail terms.

By the way, a police offense without punishment decision also happened in Palo Alto just last week.

The fact that some 80-plus law enforcement officers in this state working today are convicted of crimes that range from animal cruelty, domestic violence and even manslaughter and have gone unpunished has been vividly pointed out the a consortium of California newspapers, including the Mercury News. After DUI and other serious driving offenses, domestic violence was the most common charge.

As you may have read, these reporters spent more than six months examining how California deals with cops who break the law. And the answer, in my estimation, is Poorly. The review found 630 officers convicted of a crime in the last decade – an average of more than one a week. And granted that’s a small percentage of police officers in the state, but more than a quarter of the cases appear never to have been reported in the media until now. And one in five officers are still working or kept their jobs after sentencing, according to the Bay Area News Group.

I am not suggesting that cops are bad, because we do have lots of wonderful police officers in this state. But as in any large organization, there are always some miscreants.

On Feb. 27, 2018 at the Buena Vista Mobile Park, Sgt. Walter Benitez slammed resident Gustavo Alvarez on the hood of a car and mocked him for being gay. Just before the slamming, Benitez is heard saying to Alvarez, “So you think you are a tough guy.” The incident was captured on video. Benitez was put on paid leave, eight months later he said he was retiring. He had other questionable behavior incidents in his career. The DA’s office was interested in investigating the case, but the city has not yet given the report to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.

Why not? The incident happened 21 months ago. Is the city hiding something?

At times, it’s been difficult for me, as a reporter, to get information from the Police Department, sometimes depending on who is the chief. If a police officer is involved in a shooting, s/he is put on paid leave but the name of the officer is not released. Yet if an individual is stopped for a suspected infraction, that person’s name is on the public police blotter within hours. It doesn’t seem fair to me a similar process does not occur for any police officer involved in an illegal incident.

Police tend to circle their wagons to avoid public view and inspection and release as little information about their fellow officers. This happens around the state.

Last week, the Palo Alto City Council decided to award Alvarez $572,500 for the physical and psychological injuries he experienced from Sgt. Benitez, including facial injuries and a broken tooth. Alvarez did not attack any police officer before his head hit the windshield.

In return, Benitez has been asked to apologize to Alvarez in writing, and since he has left the department as a city employee, he will receive a pension of $9,866.41 a month plus all health insurance. At age 62 he is young enough to find another job. That doesn’t seem to me a punishment – it’s more like forgiveness.

Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell issued a similar sentiment, saying, “Everything points to this sergeant being a really bad cop. He’s going to walk away from the city of Palo Alto and we taxpayers are going to be paying his benefits.”

An apology, to me, is insufficient discipline for a police officer who slammed the head of a resident into a car windshield several times. If you or I got angry at our neighbor and slammed his head into a windshield, would we simply be asked to apologize for what we did? No, we’d most likely be arrested for assault, tried, maybe convicted and jailed.

For me, no man, no police officer, and no president is above the law.
What is democracy worth to you?
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Comments

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 10:29 am

This is one of the few times I've agree with Diana Diamond. It's helpful to learn that she hasn't always found the various police chiefs in Palo Alto helpful when she sought information.

The officers' criminal treatment of this man, under the leadership of Benitez, was ghastly. I hope they regret that their actions resulted in this person, with a significant criminal history, becoming wealthier.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by criminals in uniform, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 10:35 am

A new transparency law regarding police records went into effect this year. And what has been the police resonse?
Read below:
Web Link

Unfortunately the police think they are above the law.
Just remember the police are just a small step above the criminals they are supposed to arrest.
Look at the record of police departments around the country-- - police serving as hit men for the mafia (NYPD), shooting innocent people , committing crimes, covering up acts of malfeasance behind the blue wall of silence
Benitez is an example of the palo alto version of garbage wearing a police uniform. But this is not the first case of happenings like this at the PAPD.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Interesting, a resident of Los Altos Hills,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 1:57 pm

Thank you, Diana Diamond, for bringing this to light. I had no idea this had happened and it's absolutely despicable that the former officer is getting away with barely a slap on the wrist. Judge Cordell is 100% correct that we taxpayers will be paying for a bad cop.

His behavior is inexcusable and I think he should be taught that his job was to uphold the law, not let his prejudices and insecurities get in the way. Every single one of us is responsible for our own behaviors and if he isn't mature enough to deal with his emotions, then he certainly should have never been a law enforcement officer.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 3:46 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Across the nation cops are killing, beating up and abusing civilians with impunity. A former chief of police once told me that in his opinion 40 percent of police officers should never been allowed to be cops. Cops have been glorified since 9/11, and the public at large has forgotten that cops are public servants, not the enemies of the public. Using reasonable orce against people who endanger cops is justified, but the reality now is that many cops abuse civilians for no reason, sometimes out of sheer sadistic instincts, just because believive they can get away with it even if they get caught. The common dominator to all police states is that the police always gets away with human rights violation, and unfortunately our society is now closer than ever to live in a police state, especially since January 2017.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Joe, a resident of Ventura,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 11:31 pm

Palo Alto police have had a few dirty officers in there ranks When will they be held responsible for the lawsuit filed against them not the taxpayers hell he can afford it be hell be the PAPD still have a couple crooks in uniform still that b were arrested for over charging hundreds of hours they never worked how is that possible if u get caught stealing from the people they are paid to protect they should be fired and forced to pay back the people and lose by the right to be a police officer since they can no longer be trusted to uphold the law they swore to uphold think about that
They have to earn RESPECT they don't just get it because they wear a badge me so how is it crooks are still working for the people they stole from


 +   4 people like this
Posted by R. Ortiz, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 6:59 am

In many instances, unlawful police behavior is just another example of bullying...a critical issue/concern we are trying to address & resolve among our children.

There is absolutely no excuse for law enforcement to abuse its responsibilities towards public safety via intimidation tactics, wrongful shootings & violations of the 4th Amendment.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 8:25 am

Something deeper had been bothering me about this and it was only as I discussed this last night that I could work out what it was.

Of course people should not be treated badly by police - or anyone else - even if they have done something wrong.

However, and this is hard to put into words, when people who are doing something wrong and are not complying with police, should they really benefit financially from their bad behavior?

Along with this story we have the story of the man on the Bart station who ended up being put into handcuffs for eating a sandwich on the platform which is against Bart rules. He has received an apology, but at no stage did he admit that he broke the rules.

I have great respect for police and I know that they often have a thankless task keeping us safe from the bad guys out there. Of course the majority of them do their jobs well and even they can have a bad day but most manage to remain professional. There are times that for some, their emotions get the better of them and they deal badly in a situation. Of course it is wrong for them to do this and I am not trying to forgive them, but perhaps we can understand that for them it is a sign of the stresses they face all the time.

My feelings are that those who are breaking rules, making it difficult for the police to do their jobs, not complying with the rules or the laws, should not be benefiting from their wrongdoing. In both of these situations, the police could have handled it better. But the bottom line is that they were both breaking the law, breaking the rules of society, they were in the wrong. Period. They should not be benefiting from their bad behavior. Period.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Criminals in uniform, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 8:52 am

"However, and this is hard to put into words, when people who are doing something wrong and are not complying with police, should they really benefit financially from their bad behavior?"

When they are already handcuffed and they have their heads smashed into a car hood? Then yes, they should sue and in this case get a settlement from the city.
It is unfortunate that Benitez will not spend the rest of his days in prison afraid for his life in the general population.

Police are a tiny step from being just like the criminals they are supposed to protect us from. And as shown all over the country-- many of the police are criminals and the so-called "good" cops protect them.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Criminals in uniform, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 8:52 am

"However, and this is hard to put into words, when people who are doing something wrong and are not complying with police, should they really benefit financially from their bad behavior?"

When they are already handcuffed and they have their heads smashed into a car hood? Then yes, they should sue and in this case get a settlement from the city.
[Portion removed.]

Police are a tiny step from being just like the criminals they are supposed to protect us from. And as shown all over the country-- many of the police are criminals and the so-called "good" cops protect them.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 10:10 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,

>> Something deeper had been bothering me about this and it was only as I discussed this last night that I could work out what it was. Of course people should not be treated badly by police - or anyone else - even if they have done something wrong. However, and this is hard to put into words, when people who are doing something wrong and are not complying with police, should they really benefit financially from their bad behavior?

I understand exactly what you are saying. However, civil actions against police departments/cities with punitive damage awards seem to be the only way to force police departments to clean up, and to get rid of abusive cops. Everything else that I know of, including citizen boards and ombudspeople and all that never have the desired effect. Big damage awards do. You noticed, I'm sure, that the officer involved had other incidents and complaints. But, now, he is no longer working with the department.

So, strangely, in cases like this, I'm glad to see the award, and see the officer move on. It seems to be the only way to get these guys out of a PD. For me, while it isn't a small price to pay, it seems to be the smallest price available. You know a better method to stop this kind of police behavior?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 10:15 am

mauricio is a registered user.

There are many instances we know of, and probably even more we don't, in which members of the public would comply with everything the cops told them to do, be it during a traffic stop or any other situation, and were abused by the police, sometimes beaten to within an inch of their lives, sometimes even murdered. This goes directly to the tragic reality that many cops are actually criminals in uniform:people who have violent tendencies they can't control, bigots, racists, militia types. Of course there are many decent cops, but even they tend to protect the bad apples because of the police code of silence. it is no wonder that a former police chief in the Bay Area once told me that based on his experience and knowledge, at least 40 percent of cops should never have been allowed to be police officers.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 11:55 am

I thought Benitez was a good cop because I have had a conversation with him that was
pleasant and professional. He blew up when "On Feb. 27, 2018 at the Buena Vista Mobile
Park, Sgt. Walter Benitez slammed resident Gustavo Alvarez on the hood of a car and
mocked him for being gay.

I don't like the condensing of a situation that is legal put in words that can inflame readers,
like "slammed" and "mocked".

Are any negative descriptors like "slunk" into his house to escape the police, or do we just
assume the criminals are being criminals and allow any behavior because criminals do what
criminals do? What did Alvarez do that caused Benitez to exclaim that he was trying to be a
tough guy ... and presumably make his job harder and more dangerous? How about some
fairness in reporting.

I am seeing lots of inflammatory language in all media these days, somehow reporters do not
seem to understand English or how to report on something objectively.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Criminals in uniform , a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 4:35 pm

CPA- not sure why you are defending a criminal with a badge like Benitez. There is clear evidence that Benitez, in an act of criminal assault, slammed a handcuffed prisoner into a car ( while his homophobic comments do not break the law, they should have been investigated as a hate crime). Benitez is lucky he was not charged and allowed to slink off into retirement. It does not matter what Alvarez did- he was handcuffed. Period. End of story.
So glad that criminal garbage is gone from the PAPD.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by R. Ortiz, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 28, 2019 at 11:32 am

A key question that is probably customary during the initial interview process is, "Why do you wish to enter law enforcement?"

Chances are that in certain instances this particular query is not being answered truthfully by the applicant(s).

BART, big-city law enforcement departments & now Palo Alto (among other municipalities) may not be screening their personnel adequately in terms of internalized personal biases (aka prejudices) & insensitivities.

Why else would we be witnessing such reoccurring incidents of police misconduct as a whole?

A tough job & someone has to do it BUT there are some (or many) who shouldn't be packing heat & wearing a badge. The various newspaper accounts easily verify this observation.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Nov 28, 2019 at 2:00 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Many would be cops lie on their police applications and interviews when asked why they want to be police officers. Too many want to be cops because it would them a liscence to behave in ways that would get them in deep trouble with the law if they weren't cops. We will never know how exactly many bad apples there are, but people would be shocked to know that there are many times more than they suspect, and that some of those bad apples are actually extremely dangerous individuals.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by margaret, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 12:25 pm

People are in heavy denial about how Corrupt today's Palo Alto has become in every increasingly bloated government department

Nobody even goes to council meetings any more because we all know how hopeless it is...this is not our mother's Palo Alto



 +   4 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Robinson, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 1:22 pm


“In 39 weeks, 30 officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty in 2019.

The manner of the deaths doesn't follow any pattern, said Robyn Small with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Some officers died responding to robberies or domestic disturbances. Others were ambushed.
At the end of September 2018, 38 officers had been shot and killed while on duty, and 47 officers were gunned down by the year's end, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund."


If you think about it, every time a police officer steps outside his door he is putting himself in danger. It's hard to imagine the level of stress this must create over a period of time. None of which excuses the criminal behavior of Benitez but I resent the conviction stated above that the entire police force is corrupt or corruptable.

Our police recruits are thoroughly vetted by psychologists and submitted to a battery of tests to establish fitness.
One never can speculate on what has happened or preceded an encounter. Reporting can be faulty or skewed.
For me and my family, I am grateful we have such a fine police force taking care of us.




 +   3 people like this
Posted by Aaron, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Residents should try stopping to photograph a police activity and see what happens. If you have the courage to tell them you have a legal right to photograph police officers they will scold and harass and tell you to step back far beyond a reasonable distance. When you remind them that you are only obligated to not interfere or get in their way they stand in front of your camera to effectively prevent a citizen from taking pictures. Consider yourself lucky if they ignore you.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 8:16 pm

@Jeremy Robinson -
You cited a statistic provided by someone from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. What is the total number of policemen represented by the NLEO? Many thousands, I imagine.

Yes, it's sad that 30 policemen nationwide were were killed in the first 9 months of 2019. How many unarmed civilians were killed in that same time period by armed policeman, some off duty & out of uniform?

I don't believe that applicants to Bay Area police departments are adequately vetted. There are a few bad apples I remember from my school days here who ended up becoming cops. Some were always bullies. If the policemen are so fine & upstanding, why does the POA so rigorously defend officers who're recorded on camera violating citizen rights? There are many officers with DUIs and/or domestic battery offenses still on the job. Why does a "bad" cop, who's actions cost the City (& hence the taxpayers) a lot of money get paid leave & full retirement?

There are plenty of very recent examples of trigger-happy cops. In response to the new "transparency" enacted re: police misbehavior, San Jose PD says it needs 5 years to examine its records. Ludicrous. There are many good law enforcement officers but sadly the bad ones get to stay around too.

Remember the Menlo Park cop caught "visiting" a Mtn. View prostitute while on duty? He kept his job. So has the cop who shot 3 people, killing one, inside Costco in Corona. There are many other examples. One neighboring town did recently get rid of a relatively new cop, formerly an army sniper, who shot a homeless man's dog without provocation and had some other incidents which were a concern.

There appears to be system similar to tenure which allows cops to continue working after behaviors whch would get any of the rest of us arrested and that's both wrong & frightening. Good cops need to step up & help weed out the baddies.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 11:34 pm

> Criminals in uniform

You are an example of someone who is unable to see this situation clearly and thinks only in terms of hating and attacking the police. Benitez is no more a criminal than you are or anyone else is. That said, Benitez blew it and only has himself to blame for it, but if it was up to me I think I would have been more lenient, but not for anything and not infinitely so. That does not make the real criminal here worthy of a big criminal payoff.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by R. Ortiz, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 30, 2019 at 10:41 am

> When you remind them that you are only obligated to not interfere or get in their way they stand in front of your camera to effectively prevent a citizen from taking pictures.

^^^ This is to ensure dubious excuses that their bodycams malfunctioned or were aimed in the wrong direction/angle to verify the incident.

Brings back memories of the Oscar Grant killing at the BART station...police footage was inconclusive.

Civilian video footage verified what really happened.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 30, 2019 at 1:47 pm

PDs let policemen who've seriously erred (crashing a car while drunk, assault & battery, DUI, GBH, perjury, fraud, etc.) go on paid leave or ride a desk for enough time to qualify for full retirement with all the benes, I believe that miscreants should be suspended during a very prompt investigation & have the clock stopped immediatelyI on time accruing to retirement.
If there is no fault found, time served toward retirement gets reinstated. if the cop is guilty of a felony, not pled down to a misdemeanor as a "professional courtesy," s/he's terminated effective the date of the infraction & bye-bye pension & perks.
If policemen knew that they were jeopardizing their own financial futures, I think many would be more careful about abusing the citizens & laws they're supposed to protect. I can't think of any other careers which are so tolerant of violaters.
We all know colleagues who've been fired immediately for acts which cops get away with and continue to be employed & paid.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by R. Ortiz, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 1, 2019 at 8:02 am

> PDs let policemen who've seriously erred (crashing a car while drunk, assault & battery, DUI, GBH, perjury, fraud, etc.) go on paid leave or ride a desk for enough time to qualify for full retirement with all the benes,

^^^ It's called 'professional courtesy' & the practice has been going on for an eternity.

Off-duty cops who get pulled over for speeding or suspected DUI are frequently 'let go' by a responding officer IF they show their ID...it's a brotherhood of sorts.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Dec 1, 2019 at 10:48 am

@ R Ortiz.
Yes, please re-read what I wrote. I already mentioned "professional courtesy."
When there are civilian witnesses or victims, it's much harder to conceal the infractions and crimes.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Diana why don't you walk 10,000 miles in Wayne's shoes before you judge him?
He worked for many years as a tech at Stanford hospital and many years here, protecting us from career criminals like the guy at BV.

I'm sure he has many gay friends he does not mock.

Wasn't that guy arrested again for burglary?
(portion removed)
Shame on you, DD.



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