A judge ruled Wednesday morning that Palo Alto police officers acted illegally when they used a ruse to convince Joseph Anthony Ciampi, 41, to come out of his parked van March 15 — triggering a fight with three officers, a double Taser incident, and the man's arrest for assaulting an officer.
Superior Court Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett dismissed the assault charges against Ciampi because he said everything that followed the police ruse was illegal. One of the officers had pretended to radio for a tow truck.
"This particular ruse, in this particular instance, was unlawful, and everything that follows was illegal," Barrett said. He cited a court decision that "law officials should not trample upon Constitutional Rights" of people, saying that the conduct of the Palo Alto officers was "tainted."
"The complaint is dismissed, and Mr. Ciampi, you are discharged," Judge Barrett said.
"I am relieved," Ciampi said moments later outside the Palo Alto courtroom. He said he will pursue legal action against the city over what happened.
"I want the truth to come out," he said.
Police were called by resident Ken Alsman on the morning of March 15 with a complaint that a man had for some weeks been sleeping in his van near Ramona Street and Lincoln Avenue just south of downtown Palo Alto.
A tape of the 911 call by Alsman was played in court early in December, in which Alsman complained because he said the man looked at his wife and made her uncomfortable.
The three officers who responded to the call — Manuel Temores, Kelly Burger and Agent April Wagner — were unable to convince Ciampi to come out his van to talk with them until Temores pretended to make a radio call for a tow truck.
Ciampi then burst out of his van and yelled at the officers, then went back inside and slammed the sliding side door shut, Temores and Burger testified.
Wagner then opened the door, and Burger said he grabbed Ciampi's arm and pulled him out of his van. Burger testified that he feared for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers because he thought Ciampi might have gone back inside to arm himself.
Temores testified that he thought Ciampi was a drug user and might be under the influence of drugs because he had pock marks on his bare arms. But medical records Ciampi showed to the Weekly indicate that Ciampi has been treated for the last six years by the Palo Alto Veteran Affairs Health Care System for a skin condition that leaves marks on his arms.
When Ciampi was pulled from his van, a melee ensued in which Temores and Burger testified that Ciampi struck both of them and Wagner. Temores said he used his Taser on Ciampi twice to subdue him, and Ciampi was then arrested on the assault charge.
Barrett said the police accused Ciampi of "violating a non-existent law" by sleeping in his van. There is no law in Palo Alto against sleeping in a parked car or truck.
There is a city law against not moving a parked vehicle within 72 hours, but Barrett noted that "there is no evidence that the 72-hour law was in violation."
"A ruse was used to get him out of his car," Barrett said. Ruses are often part of police work, "but there are limits to ruses used by police," he said.