Gustavo Alvarez, the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park resident who recently received a $572,500 settlement from the city of Palo Alto after he was violently arrested in 2018, has been charged with three counts of second degree burglary.
Alvarez appeared in court on Friday on the charges, which stem from allegations that he burglarized the same Palo Alto gas station three times over the course of a month.
Alvarez allegedly stole $500 in cash and $500 worth of cigarettes from the Valero gas station at 3972 El Camino Real, which is adjacent to the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, where Alvarez lives. He faces two felonies and one misdemeanor charge.
Alvarez's attorney, Cody Salfen of The Salfen Law Firm, suggested that the Palo Alto Police Department, the investigating agency for the case, has a conflict of interest given its past treatment of Alvarez. Now-retired Sgt. Wayne Benitez, then a supervising officer, slammed Alvarez on the hood of a car during an arrest in 2018 and was later seen on surveillance video making fun of Alvarez.
Earlier this year, Alvarez sued the city in federal court, claiming that the assault by Palo Alto officers followed "prior, repeated and ongoing harassment by the Palo Alto Police Department." He alleged that the officers' conduct was motivated by "hatred and prejudice of homosexual males."
As part of the eventual settlement, the city agreed to require all officers in the Police Department to go through two hours of LGBTQ sensitivity training and required Benitez to write an apology letter to Alvarez.
A statement from the city alluded to Alvarez's criminal record, which includes a 2012 arrest for robbery at the former JJ&F Market.
"While the city and Police Department sharply dispute the vast majority of Mr. Alvarez' claims and have deep concerns about Mr. Alvarez's continuing criminal behavior, the city believes that this resolution is in the best interests of all involved — including the Police Department, its police officers, and Mr. Alvarez," the statement reads.
"The Palo Alto Police Department has proven through their repeated mistreatment of Gustavo and similarly situated individuals that they operate by a different set of rules," Salfen said. "I don't know where that leads the case or it leads him but at this point in time he's innocent if and until the appropriate prosecuting agency can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did everything he's accused of doing."
On Sept. 9, Brandon James Correia, who owns the Valero, reported that a robbery had occurred overnight, according to the police report. Gustavo had allegedly entered the gas station through an open garage door, hid from an employee until he left for the night and then stole $200 from an unsecured box and spare change can, which was captured by a surveillance camera. Correia told police that he recognized Alvarez, who had worked at Valero for two weekends as a cashier about a year ago. Correia also identified Alvarez in a photo lineup, according to the police report.
Police reviewed the security video footage and confirmed a man crawling low under a service door into the business, "in an attempt not to be observed by the last employee inside of the business," and entered after the employee left, the police report states.
On Oct. 6, Correia was alerted by his alarm company that an alarm at the back door of the Valero had been activated, according to the report. He "decided to not have police respond" and logged into his surveillance video system from his phone to look at the footage, the report states. He saw a man, who he later identified as Alvarez, going into the gas station store from the unlocked back door, walking into the bathroom area and leaving about a minute later with merchandise in hand. Correia then drove to the gas station and called the police department's non-emergency line. Police again reviewed the video footage and said Alvarez "appears to be the male suspect seen on video breaking into the Valero gas station."
Alvarez allegedly stole approximately seven cartons of cigarettes, valued at about $500, Correia told police.
Six days later, Alvarez allegedly entered the gas station kiosk while it was unattended and stole $300 from the cash register, which was again captured on surveillance video, according to the police report.
Alvarez's next scheduled court appearance is set for January to enter a plea.