Palo Alto settles Taser suit for $35K | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto settles Taser suit for $35K

City of Palo Alto to pay Tony Ciampi after 2008 incident

In order for all area residents to have important local information on the coronavirus health emergency, Palo Alto Online has lifted its pay meter and is providing unlimited access to its website. We need your support to continue our important work. Please join your neighbors and become a subscribing member today.

The City of Palo Alto has reached a tentative $35,000 settlement agreement with Joseph "Tony" Ciampi, a Palo Alto man on whom police used Tasers in 2008.

Police lured Ciampi, who lives in his van on city streets, from his vehicle after a neighbor complained that his presence made the man's family uneasy. Ciampi was arrested on March 15, 2008, for resisting arrest after police pulled him out of the van.

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled in December 2008 that police acted illegally because they had no probable cause for luring Ciampi from his van. Living in vehicles is not illegal in Palo Alto.

Video from the incident showed Ciampi sitting in the doorway of his van while attempting to call his attorney and being yanked from the van by officers, who zapped him twice with the stun guns amid the scuffle.

Ciampi filed suit against the city in federal court, citing civil-rights violations and represented himself. He met with Steven A. Sherman, the city's attorney, on Tuesday (Aug. 9) for 2.5 hours, during which the case was settled, according to court documents.

City Attorney Molly Stump confirmed Thursday that the case had been settled but said she could not comment on the settlement terms until the paperwork is finalized, which could happen next week.

The settlement documents are being prepared by the city, according to court papers.

Ciampi originally sued the city for $11 million.

He confirmed Thursday morning that he had settled for $35,000 but said it was premature to say it was finalized.

"The city wanted this case to settle, and I didn't think that I would get much more in front of a jury. There were no guarantees, and there was only one claim left," he said.

Ciampi said he did not feel vindicated by the agreement, however.

He has maintained that the city withheld crucial original video footage from the Taser recordings that he said show police acted improperly and initially fired the Tasers at him without provocation.

He has kept up a protracted fight to obtain the alleged missing footage, which he said would show police used the Tasers before any altercation began.

Police have maintained no footage is missing.

Citing the Oscar Grant killing in which BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot the prone man in the back, Ciampi said: "It seems like the only times videos hold officers accountable are when the citizens have the videos."

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2011 at 10:51 am

Another reason to get those living in their cars off Palo Alto streets. It's time we made it illegal to live in cars and that includes the Cubberly Parking Lot.

I am glad that the police got this suspicious person out of his van. I am sorry that it seems the City has to settle and pay this man $$.

Like this comment
Posted by Milt P.
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2011 at 10:58 am

Yeah, the police have a responsibility to know and apply proper levels of force. The public also has a share of responsibility to be reasonable and comply with the police if being stopped. If somebody flips out when they get stopped, and ignores what an officer is telling them to do, then they leave themselves open to having that response scrutinized. The police have no idea why the person is acting like that. It would not be a normal response from people, and the officer might be worried about the person's threat potential. In some cases, it could even lead to a physical confrontation.

I'm not saying that the police aren't capable of making mistakes or taking things too far. They're humans after all and subject to the same limitations as the rest of us. I also believe, despite how the issues are portrayed by the critics, that the police are not out routinely beating and shocking people who react to being stopped in a mature, reasonable, and compliant manner. An extremely rare occurrence indeed.

If someone feels they have been stopped unjustly, without having all of the facts, that would not be the time to take matters in their own hands and simply ignore an officer or refuse to comply with their instructions. Doesn't mean you can't ask questions, ask for their name and badge number, and even make a complaint. But to ignore them completely, or even worse, start flipping out physically or try to walk away, then that person is creating the problem and has to take some responsibility for how things develop. Bottom line, I don't feel sorry for people who act stupid and then wonder why things got out of hand. Very unfair to make the whole thing even more complicated for the police. Their job is always difficult enough as it is.

Like this comment
Posted by police brutality
a resident of Portola Valley
on Aug 11, 2011 at 11:04 am

Concerned retiree and Milt P:
you need to get the facts--the video of the incident clearly shows the police accusing him of being a heroin addict, then tasering him when he tried calling his lawyer. The judge threw out the charges and said the police went too far. The city is lucky he is not getting more money for this outrageous police behavior.

Also note the recent conviction of New Orleans police for gunning down innocent people on the bridge after Katarina. Look at the actions of the NYPD (the country's worse police department) over the years.

The police think that they are a law onto themselves. They need to be put in their places.

Like this comment
Posted by Great News!
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2011 at 11:10 am

Great for Mr Ciampi! Now that he has this bit of money, I'm sure he'll take advantage of it and use it to get himself off the streets! I bet this is the only thing that was keeping him from living productively! Congrats Mr Ciampi and congrats on having the means to get off the streets now.

Like this comment
Posted by Milt P.
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

I'm guessing he's not getting more money Brutality because the video is not as compelling as you suggest, and that there's much more to the story and background to balance things out. Undoubtedly cheaper to send him away with a relatively small claim than to to defend the matter in a civil court. That's what I think.

Again, I do agree that the police are not mistake free. That goes without saying. I also believe, despite the examples you gave, that in the vast majority of cases the police handle situations properly and within the legal limits, in most cases under difficult and dangerous circumstances. While acknowledging both sides of this issue, I understand the social implications involved here as well as the challenges the police face. I will not summarily dismiss the efforts and contributions made by the police and public safety officials by casting them all in a negative light. You throw out some extreme, rare examples of abuse, and suggest it is common place. Again, I do not believe that. For example, have you ever posted an opinion or expressed outrage over the many police officers that are killed in the line of duty every year? We all need to recognize both sides of the issues and avoid bias. The bias I recognize evident by your screen name.

Like this comment
Posted by Marin
a resident of Portola Valley
on Aug 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm

For Police Brutality to consider, you said, New York Police Department is the "worst" in the country. Tell that to the families of the many officers that died trying to rescue victims of the World Trade Center attack. Try thinking about everyone involved for once.

Like this comment
Posted by police brutality
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm

"Tell that to the families of the many officers that died trying to rescue victims of the World Trade Center attack. "
Maybe you should talk to the families of the firefighters that died on 9/11. They were left at the WTC site, while the police were running away with Mayor Rudy. They got the clear out signal on their radios,but because the police did not want the fire department to share their frequency, the were left to die.
ALso talk to the families of the innocent men (mostly minority) that were gunned down in cold blood. Talk to the people that have to face the "blue wall of silence", which protects even the most heinous offenses by the NYPD. I bet you that Justin Volpe is one of your heroes.
Maybe you should also try thinking about everyone involved.

Like this comment
Posted by Marin
a resident of Portola Valley
on Aug 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm

73 police officers died at the WTC attack, and none of them were running away PB. Many more suffered injuries. You can spin how you wish, but I choose to honor the men and women in blue who have sacrificed their lives, and respect the vast majority who are honorable. I too honor the firefighters and other public safety people that lost their lives that day. You take a very small fraction of bad examples, and attempt to paint an entire department in that light. The reasonable majority sees through your bias agenda and rhetoric. This will be my final comment on this matter. I choose not to further dignify your point of view with a response.

Like this comment
Posted by police brutality
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm

"respect the vast majority who are honorable"
I respect those that are honorable. unfortunately in the NYPD, the blue wall of silence rules and otherwise honorable officers go along and help cover up acts of malfeasance by their fellow officers.

"You take a very small fraction of bad examples, and attempt to paint an entire department in that light. "
Law enforcement personnel are held to a different standard--they are supposed to uphold the law, that is why when they take the law into their own hands it is a major issue.

"The reasonable majority sees through your bias agenda and rhetoric. "
It is my opinion. Not binding on anyone. Sorry you do not feel that I have the right to express my feelings on the matter

Like this comment
Posted by campanile80
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I do not know the facts of the taser incident to offer my perspective, although the willingness of the City to pay out something probably means there was was some fault on the part of the police. However, remember that this this incident took place as a result of an altercation btween Mr Ciampi and a neighbor who objected to him living in a car in front of his home. The city council could make this problem go away-as have all other neighboring cities-by banning living in cars. In addition to preventing unsanitary conditions, it would prevent this situation from occuring in future. The council was ready to act a month ago until a few vehicle dwellers and a pastor from the Lutheran church in College Terrace showed up at a council meeting and begged the council to hold off. And then the Weekly ran a cover stoty expressing great sympathy for the vehicle dwellers. So, the Council-not exactly acting like profiles in courage-decided to punt the issue for future study.
No doubt these are difficult issues. But there are fundamental sanitary, quality of lfe and neighborhood protection issues that have to be paramount. Of course, it is easy to become sympathetic to the plight of those who are forced to live in these conditions. But sometimees we lose sight of these larger issues. A few years ago, the council actually debated for forty five minutes whether public defaction and urination should be banned. The council finally acted, but not without a couple of council members raising the the constitutional rights of defacators and urinators. There is a reason why all other local cities addressed this vehicle habitation ssue before Palo Alto has done so-and dealt with public defactaion years ago.
I am sympathetic to the idea of having the College Terrace Lutheran Church and other churches offer their parking lots to vehicle dwellers. But would their congregations and adjacent neighbors accept such a solution? And would Palo Alto church parking lots become a magnet for the mid peninsula vehicle dweller population-since other cities ban it? The record of these vehicle cities in other jurisdictions is not a good one.
So yes, tough issues, but the Council needs to remain focused on the greatest good here.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I agree Campanile, but I suspect that the settlement was nothing more than a quick, fairly economical way of simply disposing of this matter. Defending these cases in a civil court, even a very arguable case, would have cost the city much more. Better to cover the expense up front and have it go away. Believe me, if there were more to this case in terms of police misconduct, the attorneys would have been coming out of the woodwork to represent the plaintiff and get their piece of the action. In the big scheme, this settlement represents small potatoes.

On the greater issue of the city balking on the proposed ban on car dwelling, I couldn't agree with you more. There would undoubtedly be a significant impact to the surrounding neighborhood if a mobile shelter would be allowed to operate on either public or private property. You mentioned that someone suggested that a church parking lot could be used for such a purpose. The fact is several Palo Alto churches throughout the city already participate in the Hotel DeZink program, which offers temporary shelter to qualifying homeless people. To illustrate the very legitimate concerns residents would have with any expansion of such a program, it was at one of these participating churches that a murder took place several years ago. It was at a church on Middlefield not far from Lucie Stern Community Center and Addison School. In that case, a homeless man shot and killed another homeless man during an argument.

Palo Alto already plays host to multitude of social services and homeless outreach programs. Additionally, tax payers fund over $100,000 to these programs in annual contributions. Palo Alto carries the majority of the burden in our region when it comes to offering programs and spending tax dollars, in most cases allocated to people with little or no ties to our community. No other community comes even close to matching Palo Alto's generosity and tolerance. It's time for other cities to step in and take accept their share of the responsibility. Enough is enough.

Like this comment
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Without regard to whether police acted properly or improperly in this case, there is ample evidence that Tasers can be deadly. They should not be used to enforce "compliance" when there is no danger to police officers or the public. If Simitian is listening then perhaps he could pass a state law that would forbid Taser use except where deadly force would be authorized. That is how Tasers came to be adopted in the first place, and the proliferation of their use in non-deadly situations has lead to many tragedies.

Like this comment
Posted by cooop
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm

and saved many more lives.....

Like this comment
Posted by Campanello
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 11, 2011 at 10:29 pm

There is ample evidence that people can be even deadlier. The police should have multiple tools to deal with these idiots and protect themselves as well as the law abiding public. How about don't be stupid and put yourself in a position where you're in a confrontation with the police to begin with. Reserve some expectations for them as well.

Like this comment
Posted by Dahlia
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2011 at 9:20 am

the police and firefighters at the world trade center are NOT heros - rescuing citizens is in there JOB DESCRIPTION same as SOLDIERS at war now........a "HERO" is someone who is NOT being paid for there actions.
we use the word HERO now for everything
the WTO first responders were just that - first reponders who had a duty to perform

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2011 at 9:56 am

According to the dictionary a hero is defined as: A person of distinguished courage and ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. Not everyone has what it takes to be a police officer, firefighter, or soldier. It takes a special, HEROIC person of courage and ability to face what they face, and do what they do. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by dahlia
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2011 at 11:45 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Coop
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm

To Dahlia- Someone who pays the ultimate price trying to save another, regardless of their employment status or cause, IS a hero. Police and Fire fighters try to help save lives, but no where, that I have ever heard or read, does that mean they need to DIE or be injured for you.

Like this comment
Posted by Edgarpoet
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Edgarpoet is a registered user.

Mr. Ciampi was Not resisting arrest, nor was he even breaking any law
at the time of incident.
And some hot shot cop wanting to impress his peers was trigger happy
on the laser gun.
If you need to make heros out of human rights abusers its a sad day
on planet Earth!
There are plenty of other ways to deal with simple public nuisance
complaints from paranoid homeowners in Palo Alto.
Police went overboard on this one!

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay up to date on local coronavirus coverage with our daily news digest email.

'A devastating impact:' The coronavirus claims Clarke's Charcoal Broiler, Mountain View's oldest operating restaurant
By Elena Kadvany | 29 comments | 10,237 views

Coronavirus Food Safety Update + New! Insider Tips
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 3,379 views

Can you stay healthy without making more trash?
By Sherry Listgarten | 7 comments | 3,199 views

Think about helping others in our coronavirus-affected area
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 2,911 views

The University of California’s flexible policies during COVID-19
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 6 comments | 1,457 views



The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details