Mountain View, Palo Alto police release footage of June 2020 K-9 mauling of innocent man

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Mountain View and Palo Alto police departments Tuesday released bodycam footage from an incident in June in which a Palo Alto police K-9 mistakenly attacked Mountain View resident Joel Alejo.

Alejo is suing the City of Palo Alto for $20 million in damages. 

According to a Mountain View police press release, the officers were given permission by the resident of the house to enter the backyard as they were searching for a man accused of kidnapping and domestic violence, who the police believed fled to a nearby neighborhood. 

A Palo Alto K-9 unit led the way on the Mountain View case — because no Mountain View K-9 units were available at the time — as a group of officers entered the backyard to find Alejo sleeping in the shed, mistaking him for the felony suspect.

Bodycam footage shows the dog promptly attacking, biting and leaping on Alejo.

Officers can be heard yelling commands at the dog to stop on bodycam footage from Mountain View officers Ian Johnson and Nick Enberg, over Alejo’s cries and the K-9’s howls.

“Give up, give up, give up!” the officers command the dog while simultaneously commanding Alejo to “Stop resisting.”

Officers determined Alejo was not the suspect after having instructed the dog to attack. After about a minute of yelling commands and pulling at the dog’s collar, Alejo was freed from the dog only to be rolled on his back and put into handcuffs in the shed. 

“Believing the person to be the hiding felony suspect, officers used the police canine to assist in detaining the person,” Palo Alto police said in its press release. “Further investigation revealed the person was not the suspect and in fact was not connected to the criminal incident that prompted the search.”

Officers put Alejo in their police car as they waited for an ambulance to arrive and treat his wounds. 

“You’re not in trouble. We just want to make sure that your leg is going to be OK,” an officer said in the footage. 

Alejo was taken to the hospital and treated for bite wounds. 

Alejo is now suing the city for $500,000 for medical damages, $500,000 for loss of earnings, $4 million for future general damages and $15 million in “exemplary damages.”

An independent police auditor will conduct its investigation and release a report, according to the Palo Alto announcement.  

The alleged kidnapper, who police mistook Alejo for, was arrested on July 17 for robbery, suspicion of kidnapping, knowing possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen vehicle, as reported by Palo Alto Weekly.

Friday, March 19: A previous version of this story misspelled Joel Alejo’s name, which has since been corrected.

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