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."