Civil Rights Claim Against Palo Alto PD Raises More Questions About Use of Force, Transparency

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Publication: NBC Bay Area

Julio Arevalo said he just wanted to get his son a donut when he left his home at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park late one night last July.

He never came home with that donut.

In the morning, Arevalo says he woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed with a fractured bone in his face and a brace around his neck.

While Arevalo says he doesn’t remember any of it, surveillance video from the donut shop obtained by Cody Salfen, Arevalo's attorney, captured the encounter with Palo Alto police officer Agent Thomas DeStefano Jr..

"[DeStefano] ended up slamming Julio on the ground and shattering his orbital bone and knocked him out completely cold," Salfen said. "And all for essentially nothing."


NBC Bay Area wanted to review footage from DeStefano’s body-worn camera to see exactly what led up to the incident, and why DeStefano tried detaining Arevalo in the first place. But the Palo Alto Police Department has either denied or ignored multiple public records requests from NBC Bay Area to obtain that footage – records they are required to provide by law.

The Investigative Unit sat down with California Assemblymember Phil Ting, who authored a new law requiring police officer body-worn camera footage to be released in a timely fashion after police shootings or incidents involving serious bodily injury. The law allows law enforcement agencies to withhold the video if they can provide a specific reason as to why such a release might harm an investigation, but not declare a blanket exemption because the case is still under investigation.

Palo Alto’s Police Department has yet to give any reason as to why it will not release Officer DeStefano’s body-worn camera video in Arevalo’s case, other than saying the case remains under investigation.

Assemblymember Ting declined to discuss the specifics of Arevalo’s case, but said it’s troubling when police departments do not appear to comply with the new law.

“I think it’s disappointing,” said Ting. “Because obviously I understand that there’s a certain amount of tension between police departments and the communities that they serve, but I think ultimately this transparency makes everybody better.”