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."