The Palo Alto Police Department released a video Tuesday showing a June 2020 mauling of a Mountain View resident by one of the agency's dogs, an incident that has led to a $20 million claim against the city.
The resident, Joel Alejo, is seeking damages from the Police Department, according to a claim that his attorneys filed. The Palo Alto City Council discussed the complaint in a closed session Monday night. Mayor Tom DuBois said there was no reportable action after that discussion.
The video, taken largely from the body cameras of officers Ian Johnson and Nick Enberg, shows law enforcement authorities approaching a backyard storage shed in Mountain View at about 2:30 a.m. on June 25. According to the Police Department, officers entered the yard while assisting Mountain View police in searching for a person accused of domestic violence and kidnapping. They believed he had fled into the residential neighborhood.
The camera shows the police approaching the shed, with Enberg and the police dog leading the way. The dog immediately clamps his teeth on Alejo, who had been sleeping and can be heard crying as the dog mauls his leg. Alejo can be seen covering his head with his hands while Enberg and others yell commands at the dog as he and other officers attempt to restrain the K-9.
After pulling the dog off, a process that takes about a minute, officers are seen trying to take Alejo into custody.
"Stop resisting!" one officer yells at him.
"Who is this?" another asks.
Officers then command Alejo to roll over and handcuff him on the far side of the shed, while the dog whimpers in the background on the side closest to the entrance.
In a news statement accompanying the video, the Police Department stated that officers had obtained permission from someone inside the home to search the yard. They believed the man in the shed was hiding the wanted person, according to the announcement.
"Further investigation revealed the person was not suspected and in fact was not connected to the criminal incident that prompted the search," the department said in an announcement.
Alejo, 37, filed a complaint last December, stating that he has suffered "extreme pain, bleeding, bruising and other damages." The complaint also seeks damages for "wrongful detention, false imprisonment, emotional distress, fear, terror, anxiety, humiliation, loss of sense of security, dignity and pride."
His complaint seeks $500,000 for medical damages, $500,000 for loss of earnings, $4 million for future general damages and $15 million in "exemplary damages."
"Claimant at all times was lawfully in the backyard of his residence and sleeping at the time of the incident," the complaint states. "Claimant was not involved in criminal activity at the time of the attack."
The complaint notes that the police did not have a warrant for his arrest and that the attack did not occur in defense of a peace officer or any other person.
"Nonetheless, the Police K-9 dog was instructed to and commanded to viciously attack and maul the claimant, causing severe and permanent injuries."
According to the Mountain View Police Department, which also released camera footage on Tuesday, officers were looking for a man who had allegedly kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and then drove away with her in a stolen car before pushing her out of the car, taking her phone and running away.
After they found the ex-girlfriend, a 29-year-old Mountain View resident, they located a bag that could be used to track the alleged kidnapper with the assistance of a K-9unit. It requested assistance from Palo Alto because neither of its K-9 units was available to respond, according to the department's news release.
Officers from both agencies then asked a neighbor in the area if they could search the backyard for the wanted person. After reportedly getting consent from a resident, the officers proceeded to search the backyard, where they found Alejo in the shed.
Soon after the police dog bit Alejo, officers confirmed that he was not the person they were looking for. Alejo was reportedly treated for the bite wound and taken to a hospital.
Mountain View police said they had later followed up with the resident, who told them that they didn't know that a family member — Alejo — was in the backyard.
On July 17, officers located the alleged kidnapper on the first block of West El Camino Real and arrested him on suspicion of kidnapping, robbery, knowingly possessing stolen property and possession of a stolen vehicle.
The Palo Alto Police Department had investigated the incident, though its statement did not indicate whether any of the officers involved in the incident faced any disciplinary actions. The city's independent police auditor will review the incident and consider the adequacy of the city's response, according to the city's announcement.
The city declined to state whether any of the officers faced any disciplinary action, saying it "cannot comment on employee matters of this nature" and referred inquiries about the city's review to a future IPA report.