News

Former Palo Alto police sergeant charged with assault during 2018 arrest

Footage shows Wayne Benitez slammed suspect's head into a windshield

Former police Sgt. Wayne Benitez faces up to two years in jail for a violent 2018 arrest at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Former Palo Alto police Sgt. Wayne Benitez has been charged with the assault of a Buena Vista Mobile Home Park man during an incident two years ago.

Wayne Benitez, who retired from the Palo Alto Police Department in 2019, faces a charge of unlawful assault stemming from an incident at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in 2018. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Benitez, 62, has since retired. He was seen on a home-surveillance video slamming the face of Gustavo Alvarez, who was handcuffed, against the windshield of Alvarez's car on Feb. 17, 2018. Benitez also allegedly filed a false police report, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday in a statement.

If convicted of assault under the color of authority and lying on a police report, Benitez could face up to two years in jail, the District Attorney's Office said.

"Peace officers who use more force than necessary hurt more than the person they are trying to arrest. They damage the deservedly excellent reputations of the vast majority of officers who work every shift to help people. And they strain the bonds with their communities who expect and deserve that police officers will protect and serve them fairly and professionally," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in the statement.

The case was reviewed by the District Attorney's newly formed Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Benitez was among a group of officers who had arrived as backup for another officer and took Alvarez into custody on suspicion of driving with a suspended license. Police kicked in the door to Alvarez's home after he refused to exit upon their command. A security camera outside the residence captured Benitez allegedly striking Alvarez twice as he was being handcuffed and then shoving his face into the car windshield.

Benitez's body-worn microphone also captured him allegedly saying: "See how quickly they behave once we put our foot down?" He was heard saying to another officer, "And that's what we don't do enough of."

Benitez's report regarding the incident did not mention his use of force. He wrote that the only force used was to pull Alvarez from this home.

"No other force was used," Benitez wrote.

Palo Alto resident Gustavo Alvarez claims he was illegally detained and assaulted by police on Feb. 17, 2018 near his unit at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. He filed a federal lawsuit over the incident that was later settled. Video footage from Gustavo Alvarez's home surveillance system.

The video and audio did not come to light until the following year, however, the District Attorney's Office said.

Alvarez, 39, was charged on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed by the District Attorney's Office. The city of Palo Alto paid Alvarez $572,500 in a settlement for the incident in November 2019.

"The Palo Alto Police Department appreciates the important work of the District Attorney's Office and supports the District Attorney's recent decision involving a former Palo Alto police officer," Police Chief Robert Jonsen said in an emailed statement. "The community has my commitment that our police officers will continue to serve the community through professionalism, respect and integrity and work each day to ensure their trust."

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Former Palo Alto police sergeant charged with assault during 2018 arrest

Footage shows Wayne Benitez slammed suspect's head into a windshield

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 6, 2020, 3:41 pm
Updated: Wed, Oct 7, 2020, 8:48 am

Former Palo Alto police Sgt. Wayne Benitez has been charged with the assault of a Buena Vista Mobile Home Park man during an incident two years ago.

Benitez, 62, has since retired. He was seen on a home-surveillance video slamming the face of Gustavo Alvarez, who was handcuffed, against the windshield of Alvarez's car on Feb. 17, 2018. Benitez also allegedly filed a false police report, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday in a statement.

If convicted of assault under the color of authority and lying on a police report, Benitez could face up to two years in jail, the District Attorney's Office said.

"Peace officers who use more force than necessary hurt more than the person they are trying to arrest. They damage the deservedly excellent reputations of the vast majority of officers who work every shift to help people. And they strain the bonds with their communities who expect and deserve that police officers will protect and serve them fairly and professionally," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in the statement.

The case was reviewed by the District Attorney's newly formed Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team.

Benitez was among a group of officers who had arrived as backup for another officer and took Alvarez into custody on suspicion of driving with a suspended license. Police kicked in the door to Alvarez's home after he refused to exit upon their command. A security camera outside the residence captured Benitez allegedly striking Alvarez twice as he was being handcuffed and then shoving his face into the car windshield.

Benitez's body-worn microphone also captured him allegedly saying: "See how quickly they behave once we put our foot down?" He was heard saying to another officer, "And that's what we don't do enough of."

Benitez's report regarding the incident did not mention his use of force. He wrote that the only force used was to pull Alvarez from this home.

"No other force was used," Benitez wrote.

The video and audio did not come to light until the following year, however, the District Attorney's Office said.

Alvarez, 39, was charged on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed by the District Attorney's Office. The city of Palo Alto paid Alvarez $572,500 in a settlement for the incident in November 2019.

"The Palo Alto Police Department appreciates the important work of the District Attorney's Office and supports the District Attorney's recent decision involving a former Palo Alto police officer," Police Chief Robert Jonsen said in an emailed statement. "The community has my commitment that our police officers will continue to serve the community through professionalism, respect and integrity and work each day to ensure their trust."

Comments

Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2020 at 4:25 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 4:25 pm
35 people like this

Chances are this incident will get swept under the rug.

The PAPD officer has since retired and the suspect in addition to resisting arrest at the time of the altercation received a nice settlement from the City of Palo Alto.

Hopefully we will see fewer of these occurances as law enforcement is under further scrutiny these days and many municipalities cannot afford to continue paying high ticket settlements to suspects & arrestees.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Oct 6, 2020 at 6:23 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 6:23 pm
45 people like this

Driving under the influence when he could've killed someone, and resisting arrest. When will suspects learn that you can't resist arrest. I also believe nothing will happen to Benitez. Alvarez got his settlement.


Ardan Michael Blum
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2020 at 7:37 pm
Ardan Michael Blum, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 7:37 pm
46 people like this

Note: A guilty verdict for Mr Benitez could result in his loosing his pension. Also: Pls to be balanced, you might share the arrest record of the plaintif which may be why his lawyers settled the case at over a million under their original ask.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 6, 2020 at 7:52 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 7:52 pm
20 people like this

Finally. How nice the city let him retire rather than fire him.

Has our city manager FINALLY decided to to stop stonewalling and comment? If not now, when?

What's the new outside police auditor going to do to prevent recurrence of this type of abuse in the future and to whom will he/she report?


Yolanda E. May
Registered user
Stanford
on Oct 6, 2020 at 8:41 pm
Yolanda E. May, Stanford
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 8:41 pm
48 people like this

As far as I see the abuse is not beating him up Rodney King style. This is a police action not a tea party.The officer was out of line but not a savage racist.


sbw
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Oct 6, 2020 at 10:39 pm
sbw, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 10:39 pm
17 people like this

I heard on the news that the Police Chief Robert Jonsen agreed with the charges. That's not what he was saying for the last for the last year and half evidenced by allowing Benitez to retire with nothing more than a requirement that he apologize.

Lest anyone forget, Benitez did not only slammed a citizen into the windshield, Benitez smashed the Constitution at the same time and then again when he made a false statement on the police report.

Jonsen is just making himself look good by accepting the DA's assessment. Had DA Rosen not made the faux pas of condemning Benitez's actions falsely assuming the statute of limitations had expired the DA would not be charging Benitez.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 6, 2020 at 11:14 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2020 at 11:14 pm
59 people like this

The "victim" in this case, Gustavo Alvarez, was a criminal who already accumulated a long criminal record. He was whining excessively and resisting arrest by refusing to comply with officers.

I have watched the video.
I have absolutely NO sympathy for Gustavo Alvarez.
If I was on the jury, I would acquit Officer Benitez.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen should be ASHAMED for desperately trying to justify the funding of his "Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Team" by making Officer Benitez his first sacrificial lamb at the altar of mob hysteria.


Wait for real Justice
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2020 at 9:40 am
Wait for real Justice, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 9:40 am
35 people like this

Finally the first steps are being taken to PAPD accountability 2 1/2 years after Mr. Alvarez was brutalized, lost a tooth, bloodied, with all sorts of slurs about him and low income people uttered by the chain of command Sgt Benitiz as other officers stood around and did nothing to stop it.

On the video, one clearly hears an officer say he doesn't know that Alvarez was even driving the car. When his head is slammed into the windshild by Benitiz, Alvarez was handcuffed, not resisting, and surrounded by officers, one with his gun drawn. All charges were dropped against Alvarez. None of this should have even happened.

Time will tell if conviction and felony jail time is given Benitiz, with loss of his pension. Palo Altans have no accountability yet by other officers who covered up this incident for 1 1/2 years, maintaining the toxic culture of silence in the PAPD, choosing instead to violate PAPD policy. We need to know what is going on with that.

The soft-on-crime, blame the victim stance that commenters here take on Benitiz is bizarre, a suspect charged with a violent crime, who ignored specific PAPD policies, and violating state and federal laws. It's already cost the city nearly $600,000.

How perfect would a victim have to be before police misconduct matters? If the victim were a high income white female living in N. PA with no record, would that do it? Police have lethal force to use on us - it must be regulated and taken seriously for all. That is what it says in the US Constitution Bill of Rights, laws, and PAPD policies. No exceptions for whether you happen to like a victim. No beauty contests. Everyone needs to get this straight.

A policy in the PAPD Manual that allows an officer to resign before a disciplinary hearing outcome. This is what Benitiz seemingly chose to do, keeping his pension intact at more than $10k a month. Otherwise he could have lost it with a bad outcome. In 2018 he made $295K with benefits according to Transparent California.

The city council needs to stay on course to make substantial reform of policy and accountabilty in the PAPD to get to the racism and police culture that allows this to happen.


Ardan Michael Blum
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2020 at 10:57 am
Ardan Michael Blum, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 10:57 am
23 people like this

To the commenter above: If you need to bash the concept of law and order you might want to think a little first about real situations of needed action against savage, in-human, white on black hate. Or other acts of crazed hatred masked in blue. Only, holding on to the one-size fits all and chanting neo-communist tunes about police culture is not helping out locally our community. Yolanda (above) is right on track.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:07 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:07 am
12 people like this

This was clearly a situation that should have been pursued at the time. Because of the current climate, it is reconsidered.


Ranvapa
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:26 am
Ranvapa , Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:26 am
6 people like this


!
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:51 am
!, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 11:51 am
36 people like this

Did you see the way Alvarez was resisting?! We are going to lose all our cops. The public has gone nuts! It's okay for a police officer to be physically hurt or killed but not a criminal with a rap sheet? WTH, people?! People need to be scared of cops and the criminals aren't. This sh*t doesn't happen in Singapore or Asian countries. Americans have too many rights. Criminals do not positively contribute to society.


Marianne Mueller
Registered user
Professorville
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:18 pm
Marianne Mueller, Professorville
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:18 pm
23 people like this

of course it’s not OK for a police officer to be hurt or killed on duty or off duty, however I shudder at the statement that it’s OK to assault someone who has a criminal record or who is whining that last comment really floored me. and speaking up for the bill of rights is not neocommunist hardly! I mean come on I thought this was a civil forum.


Ardan Michael Blum
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:53 pm
Ardan Michael Blum, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 12:53 pm
12 people like this

@MarianneMueller - You are right. If I could edit my post above I would. So I re-write it with a change:

(To Wait for real Justice) ... If you need to bash the concept of law and order you might want to think a little first about real situations of needed action against savage, in-human, white on black hate. Or other acts of crazed hatred masked in blue. Only, holding on to the one-size fits all and chanting generic tunes about police culture is not helping out locally our community. Yolanda (above) is right on track.


Wait for real Justice
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2020 at 1:19 pm
Wait for real Justice, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 1:19 pm
15 people like this

As it turns out, Benitiz was only charged with misdemeanor assault by DA Jeff Rosen.
As I said - wait for real justice.
As the Civil Rights Movement taught - freedom is a constant struggle.



Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 7, 2020 at 2:11 pm
Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 2:11 pm
23 people like this

When the Palo Alto Police do sloppy policing and violate citizens civil rights (even to low level repeat offenders) they should be held fully accountable. We should have a police force that is competent enough to understand if they have enough evidence to kick down a door, do a warrant check before doing so and not violating the plaintiff's civil rights. It's a pretty low bar that officer's like Benitez and DeStefanos could not meet. It would have also saved the city $500K in settlement costs for this incident and resulted in this criminal being convicted of resisting arrest. For everyone of you who thinks you must either be all in on Law & Order at all costs to civil rights or think we should turn a blind eye to looting, rioting and repeat low-level crimes, I want to stand with the folks who think neither is acceptable.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2020 at 8:06 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2020 at 8:06 pm
41 people like this

>"When the Palo Alto Police do sloppy policing and violate citizens civil rights (even to low level repeat offenders) they should be held fully accountable."

^ Concurring...temperament & restraint on the part of law enforcement is paramount.

On the other hand, many suspects & arrestees test these limits via beligerence & physical resistance.

It's a fine line and there are always two sides to every coin.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2020 at 6:51 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2020 at 6:51 pm
9 people like this

I think the headline is misleading; the video shows the officer, after pursing a suspect, who was known to them as a career criminal, slamming his body against the car chassis, maybe his teeth made contact with the glass. The reason his report said there was nothing unusual about the apprehension is because he did not, as your headline claims, slam his head.
I met Sgt Wayne Benitez in 2010 as part of the stakeholders group regarding Lytton Plaza. My understanding is that before twenty plus years in Palo Alto public safety, he served ten years at the hospital, as a tech or therapist.
I believe the charges are due to unusual political pressure on the DA. Similar to the Pesky recalll.
How many of you who criticize Wayne Benitez are also unwilling to put your life in the line protecting and serving?
He will be acquitted of these trumped up charges. He earned his pension.


Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 11, 2020 at 7:33 pm
Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2020 at 7:33 pm
9 people like this

Mark,

Did you watch the video of the incident closely? I did and what you described is not what I saw. After the suspect was cuffed and no longer a threat to the officers, Benitez then unnecessarily slammed the suspects face onto the hood of the car in clear violations of his civil rights.


Alex
Registered user
Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:26 am
Alex, Barron Park
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:26 am
8 people like this

The amount of apologists here who clearly didn't watch the videos is disgusting. If the police think it's ok to assault someone who is already handcuffed and restrained, what do you think will happen to you if you ever find yourself in that situation? I think we all know why you won't.

And to !, I'd love to see how your tune changes if you're ever accused of something by a cop. I don't think you'll be complaining about criminals having rights then. I hope every single cop that thinks beating up suspects is a legitimate tactic does leave. I don't want people like that in my city.


Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:30 am
Civil Rights, Good Policing and Law & Order are Not Mutually Exclusive, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 10:30 am
2 people like this

For those of you who want to see the actual video of the officer slamming the suspects head on the windshield while handcuffed can watch this video on the mercury news website which is less than 2 minutes and shows the act in the first 15 seconds of video.

Web Link


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:32 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:32 pm
12 people like this

>"...if you're ever accused of something by a cop. I don't think you'll be complaining about criminals having rights then."

^ Concurring...I've been there before & pervasive BULLYING efforts towards self-incrimination on the part of the police tends to run rampant regardless of one's race, color or creed.

In the eyes of law enforcement, ALL suspects (regardless of the infringement or crime) are presumed guilty.

Like in the westerns...sometimes the only difference between the outlaws & the town marshall is a tin badge.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:32 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 1:32 pm
6 people like this

>"...if you're ever accused of something by a cop. I don't think you'll be complaining about criminals having rights then."

^ Concurring...I've been there before & pervasive BULLYING efforts towards self-incrimination on the part of the police tends to run rampant regardless of one's race, color or creed.

In the eyes of law enforcement, ALL suspects (regardless of the infringement or crime) are presumed guilty.

Like in the westerns...sometimes the only difference between the outlaws & the town marshall is a tin badge.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 6:47 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Oct 12, 2020 at 6:47 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.