News

Palo Alto owes $135K to victim of police dog attack

City reaches settlement with Joel Alejo after June 2020 incident in Mountain View

Body-worn camera footage released on March 16, 2021, shows Joel Alejo, a resident of Mountain View, get bitten by a Palo Alto police dog on June 25, 2020. Courtesy city of Palo Alto.

Palo Alto will pay $135,000 to settle a lawsuit by with Joel Alejo, who was sleeping in a shed in Mountain View where he was attacked and repeatedly bitten by a police dog in June 2020.

The city reached the settlement with Alejo last month, though it did not receive the completed settlement document until Jan. 4, according to City Attorney Molly Stump. The two sides met on Dec. 17 to hash out the terms of the settlement, though the amount was not made public until Wednesday.

The settlement stems from a June 25, 2020, incident in which Palo Alto officers were assisting Mountain View police in a manhunt for an alleged kidnapper on Elsie Avenue. While searching residential yards for the suspect, police officers approached a backyard shed in the 1800 block of Elsie Avenue. Upon entering the structure, a Palo Alto police dog lunged at Alejo, who was sleeping on the floor, and proceeded to bite his leg for about a minute. The dog's handler, Officer Nick Enberg repeatedly, commanded him to attack, according to body camera footage that was released after the incident.

Footage also showed one of the officers yelling at Alejo to "stop resisting" while he was being attacked by the dog.

After handcuffing Alejo, officers ultimately determined that he was not the man they were searching for. Alejo, who was 37 years old at the time of the incident, subsequently sued both cities in federal court, seeking $20 million in damages.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

The Alejo lawsuit is one of three that Palo Alto has faced in a little over the last two years relating to violent arrests by police officers. The city reached a $572,500 settlement in 2019 with Gustavo Alvarez, who had his head slammed on a car windshield while being arrested near this home in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in 2018 (the officer who slammed Alvarez's head, Wayne Benitez, retired after the incident and is now facing misdemeanor charges of assault and lying on a police report).

The city is also still facing a lawsuit from Julio Arevalo, who fractured his facial bone when an officer who was arresting him slammed him to the ground before handcuffing him in front on Happy Donuts in 2019 (the officer, Thomas DeStefano, left the department last year).

The settlement with Alejo specifies that he "forever, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely" releases the city and all of its employees from any legal actions, damages and liabilities relating to the June 25, 2020, incident and all matters relating to the federal case.

The document also specifies that the settlement is "not to be construed as an admission of liability to Releaser by the Releasees" and that "any liability is expressly denied."

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

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.

Get uninterrupted access to important local law enforcement news. Become a member today.

Palo Alto owes $135K to victim of police dog attack

City reaches settlement with Joel Alejo after June 2020 incident in Mountain View

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 5, 2022, 2:39 pm

Palo Alto will pay $135,000 to settle a lawsuit by with Joel Alejo, who was sleeping in a shed in Mountain View where he was attacked and repeatedly bitten by a police dog in June 2020.

The city reached the settlement with Alejo last month, though it did not receive the completed settlement document until Jan. 4, according to City Attorney Molly Stump. The two sides met on Dec. 17 to hash out the terms of the settlement, though the amount was not made public until Wednesday.

The settlement stems from a June 25, 2020, incident in which Palo Alto officers were assisting Mountain View police in a manhunt for an alleged kidnapper on Elsie Avenue. While searching residential yards for the suspect, police officers approached a backyard shed in the 1800 block of Elsie Avenue. Upon entering the structure, a Palo Alto police dog lunged at Alejo, who was sleeping on the floor, and proceeded to bite his leg for about a minute. The dog's handler, Officer Nick Enberg repeatedly, commanded him to attack, according to body camera footage that was released after the incident.

Footage also showed one of the officers yelling at Alejo to "stop resisting" while he was being attacked by the dog.

After handcuffing Alejo, officers ultimately determined that he was not the man they were searching for. Alejo, who was 37 years old at the time of the incident, subsequently sued both cities in federal court, seeking $20 million in damages.

The Alejo lawsuit is one of three that Palo Alto has faced in a little over the last two years relating to violent arrests by police officers. The city reached a $572,500 settlement in 2019 with Gustavo Alvarez, who had his head slammed on a car windshield while being arrested near this home in the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in 2018 (the officer who slammed Alvarez's head, Wayne Benitez, retired after the incident and is now facing misdemeanor charges of assault and lying on a police report).

The city is also still facing a lawsuit from Julio Arevalo, who fractured his facial bone when an officer who was arresting him slammed him to the ground before handcuffing him in front on Happy Donuts in 2019 (the officer, Thomas DeStefano, left the department last year).

The settlement with Alejo specifies that he "forever, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely" releases the city and all of its employees from any legal actions, damages and liabilities relating to the June 25, 2020, incident and all matters relating to the federal case.

The document also specifies that the settlement is "not to be construed as an admission of liability to Releaser by the Releasees" and that "any liability is expressly denied."

Comments

scott
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Jan 5, 2022 at 6:37 pm
scott, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 6:37 pm

The Palo Alto taxpayer got off light this time. If I were on a jury I would have awarded a lot more to a man who was mauled awake by a K-9 unit. There's never any excuse for a police officer to attack a sleeping person, much less to allow such an attack by another officer -of any species- to proceed "for about a minute."

With all these recent abuse cases, it should be abundantly clear that if the Council doesn't get this department in check soon, we can expect to pay more victims --and we shouldn't expect all the checks to be this small.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2022 at 7:34 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 7:34 pm

$135K for a vicious dog-mauling of an innocent sleeping person? Shocking.
What are we not being told?
Was there bad plaintiff lawyering? A problematic client? A biased judge?
How was such a bizzare lo-ball settlement arrived at?
Does MVPD face any jeopardy?
This settlement alone gives no incentive for the PAPD canine unit to reform its practices (if not eliminate the unit).
This is a tragic step backwards from police reform.


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:03 am
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:03 am

Why was the guy sleeping in a shed? They were looking for a kidnapping suspect, makes sense that they might think he was the person hiding in the shed. Most people do not sleep outside at night time in a shed!

Some of you should not call law enforcement when you need help if all you do is criticize them. Call the social worker instead.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:05 am
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:05 am

I certainly agree Felix and Scott! The Palo Alto Police Dept needs to have new leadership and a new set of values. These violent attacks on people can not continue. Why does a trained dog need to attack a sleeping on the floor of a shed man? what immediate threat did he pose? Really? How would you feel if it was your kid? your husband? Your neighbor or co-worker?

Police leadership knows who the "problem" police are; the ones involved in these seemly endless lawsuits. And why is the public, who pays the bill, not being provided ALL the information? Full transparency is required.

I hope newly elected Mayor Burt takes this simmering topic on and provides an answer.

Palo Alto is not safer with problem police. I fully support our police but not the ones who keep breaking the law. Thank you.


scott
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:48 am
scott, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:48 am

Rita, we actually have a fairly new Chief, and the Council recently adopted a bunch of 8-cant-wait reforms. They're trying some of the right sorts of things. Thanks to the reforms, both officers at the scene had a duty to intervene to protect Mr. Alejo. Did that matter for Mr. Alejo? Not one whit.

The problem is the culture within the department. (You can see this because they commit abuses in front of literal police officers --in front of each other.) Police departments typically involve a lot of self-policing. Combined with a cultural imperative within the department to protect their own, that can make reform very difficult as a policy matter. This is why California's recent move to open up abuse records is so important. It shuts down the worst cops playing musical chairs with departments, but it also creates an incentive for preventing investigations from happening at all.

So we need at least two more ingredients, IMO: 1) externally-driven accountability --someone watching the watchers who does not come from the cultural environment of policing; and 2) strong police whistleblower protections. If you look at the history of police whistleblowers, you see a lot of brutal retribution. Frank Serpico still carries a bullet in his head, Cariole Horne was fired unjustly, et cetera.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:02 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:02 pm

We also need A) a city manager / city attorney who will be honest with taxpayers on whether the "bad" cops who cost us so much in legal settlements are being allowed to "retire" so they can collecttheir full pensions and benefits instead of their usual stonewalling when asked, and B) a district attorney who will start holding "bad" cops accountable rather than letting them plead down their charges.


James Goodwin
Registered user
Southgate
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:20 pm
James Goodwin, Southgate
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:20 pm

A horrible and costly incident that could easily have been avoided if the responding PA police officer had simply exercised some restraint rather than encouraging his K-9 to attack unnecessarily.

The K-9 cannot be blamed (or sued) so PA taxpayers will have to foot the bill...again.


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:40 pm
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:40 pm

None of you anti-law enforcement residents should call the police when you need them. You are too cowardly to put on a police uniform and have no idea what stress the police are under in dangerous conditions. Instead, you sit and judge them. COVID has surfaced all the mental illness of the liberals.


Jesse Taylor
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:54 pm
Jesse Taylor, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:54 pm

> How was such a bizzare lo-ball settlement arrived at?

Concurring...Mr. Alejo should have received far more in punitive damages including criminal negligence, lost wages, personal injuries + medical attention, rehabilitation, and mental anguish.

The 1/3 attorney's fee leaves him with roughly $90K...a mere pittance given what wrongfully occured.


All Along the Watchtower
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:30 am
All Along the Watchtower, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:30 am

It's not about being anti-police. It's about full accountability.


Screeedek
Registered user
Stanford
on Jan 14, 2022 at 11:55 am
Screeedek, Stanford
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2022 at 11:55 am

As horrible as this dog attack is, what I can't figure out it why was this guy sleeping in a shed. Why didn't the homeowner just let him sleep on their sofa or the floor. Why a shed? And why didn't the homeowner tell the police they had someone living in their shed when they knocked on the door?

Can someone answer?


jlanders
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jan 14, 2022 at 2:24 pm
jlanders, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2022 at 2:24 pm

Joel Alejo lived in Mountain View with his grandmother until she died in 2010. He became homeless and bounced around the area and unfortunately acquired a substance abuse problem. Most of the other details are covered by his attorney's protective order, but you can find a story about him on sanjoseinside.com from 2021.

Folks unhoused for long periods of time often find it difficult to adjust to sleeping indoors on soft surfaces. That's one reason why Palo Alto's Homekey project is critical to getting people off the street and back on their feet. Sadly, the need is much greater than Palo Alto's and our neighboring cities' ability to meet it.

When police were given permission to search the backyard by Joel Alejo's relatives after 2AM that morning, both parties did not know Joel Alejo was in the backyard shed. Since the dog was leashed and tracking, policy didn't require a verbal announcement. So, when the dog encountered Joel Alejo around a wall and out of the line of sight of the officer, everyone was surprised. The IPA report will likely have more details and a discussion about PAPD's K-9 policy changes as a result of this incident.


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.