A former Palo Alto police supervisor accused of slamming the head of a handcuffed man against a car windshield pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to two misdemeanors: assault under color of authority and lying on a police report.
Wayne Benitez, 62, a retired sergeant, was seen on home surveillance video allegedly slamming the face of Gustavo Alvarez against the windshield of Alvarez's car on Feb. 17, 2018. Benitez and a group of officers had responded to Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto to assist another officer trying to detain Alvarez, who the officer suspected was driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Alvarez refused to comply and entered his mobile home, slamming the door. Officers kicked in his door after Alvarez didn't come out and dragged him out of his residence, the video shows. He was handcuffed while being placed against his car hood and windshield.
Benitez is seen in the video outside the home allegedly striking Alvarez twice as he was being handcuffed. He allegedly shoved Alvarez's 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 police report regarding the incident did not mention his use of force and that the only force applied was to pull Alvarez from this home.
The video and audio recordings did not surface until 2019. Benitez was put on leave while the incident was being investigated and later retired.
Alvarez, 39, was initially charged with driving under the influence, driving with a suspended or revoked license and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dismissed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. The city of Palo Alto settled a lawsuit filed by Alvarez for $572,500 in November 2019.
The District Attorney's office charged Benitez with the two misdemeanor offenses on Oct. 6.
Benitez is scheduled to appear in court in San Jose for a pretrial conference on Jan. 20.