A late-night fight between two groups of men in downtown Palo Alto last weekend ended with one man unconscious in the hospital and two others arrested for felony assault with a deadly weapon.
He is a Palo Alto resident in his 20s, according to police.
On Sunday, Dec. 21, at about 2:04 a.m. – right after most bars close for the night -- Palo Alto police officers patrolling downtown heard a commotion on the sidewalk near the parking lot next to The Aquarius Theatre between Emerson and High streets, according to a police department press release. They saw one man laying in the street and a group of four men running to a car parked nearby. As the officers ran to assist the man in the street, who had been knocked unconscious, the four men got into the car, speeding off at such a speed that the officers had to sidestep it to avoid being hit, police said. However, as the car (a white 1998 Honda Civic four door) headed eastbound on University Avenue, the officers were able to get the license plate number.
Palo Alto Fire Department paramedics responded immediately and transported the victim, who was unconscious, to a local hospital. He remains in the hospital in critical condition with severe head injuries, police said Wednesday.
The investigation revealed that two groups of men – the four who fled the scene, and the victim and a friend – who didn't know each other previously had left Emerson Street bar The Patio after it closed early Sunday morning. At about 1:55 a.m., they got into a verbal argument outside the bar, which security personnel from The Patio and a police officer witnessed and intervened. The officer determined that no crime had been committed and sent the two groups to go their separate ways, police said.
About 10 minutes later, the two groups reconvened on the other end of the block near University Avenue, and the argument escalated. One man punched the victim once in the face, apparently knocking him unconscious, police said. He fell backwards, hit his head on the street and has not regained consciousness since.
The entire incident, police later learned, was captured by the dash-cam video in an unoccupied patrol car parked down the street. Police said that video will not be released to the public.
Police personnel worked through that night and morning to find the four men who fled in the car. After conducting surveillance at several locations, detectives located three of the men in a different vehicle on Sunday afternoon in San Jose. Detectives stopped the men without incident and detained them for investigation. Detectives found the fourth man about two hours later at his residence in Sunnyvale, and detained him without incident as well, police said.
The follow-up investigation determined that two of the four men had not committed crimes; they were subsequently released. Police booked the other two into the Santa Clara County Main Jail. The man who punched the the victim is 28-year-old Neil Brian Rotroff of Cupertino. Police booked him for a single count of felony assault with a deadly weapon (his fist).
The man who drove the getaway car is a 21-year-old Sunnyvale resident*. Police booked him for three counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon (one count for his role as the getaway driver, and two counts for swerving his car toward the two officers who had been trying to stop him).
After the arrests, detectives continued their follow-up investigation and ultimately presented the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for review. On Wednesday, the District Attorney's Office filed one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon against Rotroff and two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon against the Sunnyvale resident (one count covering the victim, and one count covering the two officers).
If the victim's injuries prove to be fatal, detectives will work with the District Attorney's Office to amend the charges as appropriate, police said.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the police department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.