We’ve heard that phrase repeatedly in recent weeks applied to Pres. Donald Trump as the Congressional House hearings on his impeachment got underway.
But I also believe that “the no man is above the law” tenet applies to the many police wrongdoings in California that have gone unpunished and without officers serving jail terms.
By the way, a police offense without punishment decision also happened in Palo Alto just last week.
The fact that some 80-plus law enforcement officers in this state working today are convicted of crimes that range from animal cruelty, domestic violence and even manslaughter and have gone unpunished has been vividly pointed out the a consortium of California newspapers, including the Mercury News. After DUI and other serious driving offenses, domestic violence was the most common charge.
As you may have read, these reporters spent more than six months examining how California deals with cops who break the law. And the answer, in my estimation, is Poorly. The review found 630 officers convicted of a crime in the last decade – an average of more than one a week. And granted that’s a small percentage of police officers in the state, but more than a quarter of the cases appear never to have been reported in the media until now. And one in five officers are still working or kept their jobs after sentencing, according to the Bay Area News Group.
I am not suggesting that cops are bad, because we do have lots of wonderful police officers in this state. But as in any large organization, there are always some miscreants.
On Feb. 27, 2018 at the Buena Vista Mobile Park, Sgt. Walter Benitez slammed resident Gustavo Alvarez on the hood of a car and mocked him for being gay. Just before the slamming, Benitez is heard saying to Alvarez, “So you think you are a tough guy.” The incident was captured on video. Benitez was put on paid leave, eight months later he said he was retiring. He had other questionable behavior incidents in his career. The DA’s office was interested in investigating the case, but the city has not yet given the report to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.
Why not? The incident happened 21 months ago. Is the city hiding something?
At times, it’s been difficult for me, as a reporter, to get information from the Police Department, sometimes depending on who is the chief. If a police officer is involved in a shooting, s/he is put on paid leave but the name of the officer is not released. Yet if an individual is stopped for a suspected infraction, that person’s name is on the public police blotter within hours. It doesn’t seem fair to me a similar process does not occur for any police officer involved in an illegal incident.
Police tend to circle their wagons to avoid public view and inspection and release as little information about their fellow officers. This happens around the state.
Last week, the Palo Alto City Council decided to award Alvarez $572,500 for the physical and psychological injuries he experienced from Sgt. Benitez, including facial injuries and a broken tooth. Alvarez did not attack any police officer before his head hit the windshield.
In return, Benitez has been asked to apologize to Alvarez in writing, and since he has left the department as a city employee, he will receive a pension of $9,866.41 a month plus all health insurance. At age 62 he is young enough to find another job. That doesn’t seem to me a punishment – it’s more like forgiveness.
Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell issued a similar sentiment, saying, “Everything points to this sergeant being a really bad cop. He’s going to walk away from the city of Palo Alto and we taxpayers are going to be paying his benefits.”
An apology, to me, is insufficient discipline for a police officer who slammed the head of a resident into a car windshield several times. If you or I got angry at our neighbor and slammed his head into a windshield, would we simply be asked to apologize for what we did? No, we’d most likely be arrested for assault, tried, maybe convicted and jailed.
For me, no man, no police officer, and no president is above the law.