Palo Alto police officers believed their call-a-tow-truck ruse to get a homeless man out of his van last March 15 was legal, Agent Dan Ryan said Wednesday evening in response to a judge's ruling that it was illegal.
But Ryan said the police department accepts the ruling and "will use this case as a training subject for our officers in the coming weeks."
"The officers believed that their ruse was legal, and this opinion was shared by the District Attorney's office and the City Attorney's office, prior to the court proceedings," Ryan said in an e-mail statement to the Weekly.
"The court ruled today that the ruse was coercive, and therefore unlawful, so the case was dismissed. We accept that ruling. ..."
Ryan said the intention of the three officers involved was positive.
"The officers were responding to the call (about) a suspicious person who was possibly living in a vehicle near a residence. He reportedly had scared the reporting party's wife and daughter(s), and made them feel uncomfortable by the way he watched them," Ryan recounted.
"The officers attempted the ruse in an effort to identify the subject in the van. They wanted to determine if he was truly a threat to the neighbors, or connected to any crime, so that they could report back to the citizen.
"They tried to balance the competing interests of both the reporting party and the occupant of the van, and were attempting to resolve the issue before simply leaving, without any resolution," Ryan said.
The three officers involved — 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 from the 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.
But a fight ensued and Temores zapped Ciampi twice with a Taser before he gave up. He was charged with attacking an officer, one the charges dismissed on Wednesday. (See related story.)