San Jose Shells Out $525K for Excessive Force Settlement

San Jose awarded a $525,000 settlement to a man who suffered brain damage after a cop dropped his head to the ground three years ago.

Dawit Alemayehu was 26 years old at the time of his April 1, 2013, arrest on suspicion of public drunkenness. Campbell police Officer Brendan Bligh handcuffed him and took him to jail, where San Jose police Officer Jorge Garibay intervened with excessive force.

According to the lawsuit Alemayehu filed in 2014, Bligh brought him out of the cop car in the sally port of the jail when the suspect’s pants fell off his hips. Bligh tried to pull them up so Alemayehu could walk without tripping. He also tried to remove Alemayehu’s belt, which isn’t allowed in the jail.

As a recent immigrant from Ethiopia, where prison rape is common, Alemayehu was worried about Bligh fussing with his belt.

“Plaintiff was trying to turn to face the officer to find out what was happening,” according to the complaint. “Bligh had [him] bent over his patrol car and was controlling [his] movements, but had difficulty removing [his] belt and emptying his pockets.”

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 1.36.51 PM

That’s when Garibay offered to help. Bligh said, “sure.” The San Jose cop asked if he should drop Alemayehu to the ground, but Bligh said he saw no reason to do anything other than slowly lower the handcuffed suspect.

“Bligh thought that Garibay would guide him to the ground, get his pants pulled up and belt removed and then walk him into the jail,” per the lawsuit.

Instead, Garibay knocked the arrestee over with a leg sweep. Since Alemayehu was cuffed and couldn’t break his fall, he landed face first on the concrete. Garibay claimed the suspect was kicking him and reaching for his knife and cited him for resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. Those charges were dropped.

Alemayehu blacked out for several minutes and suffered cranial bleeding and vision impairment from the fall, which racked up expensive medical bills. He also suffers from seizures as a result of the injury.

“This case is really unique because I don’t think that the San Jose officer and the jail staff knew they were being videotaped,” said Steven Berki, one of Alemayehu’s attorneys. “Our client was unconscious and you really get to see the interaction of the officers with each other and what they’re saying, how they were laughing and [came across as] insincere.”

The lawsuit, which names Garibay’s supervisor Sgt. Doug Tran as a defendant, claims police reacted with excessive force because Alemayehu is black.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 1.21.52 PM

Garibay, who was working for the San Jose Police Department’s Bureau of Field Operations at the time of the incident, remains on the same assignment, according to agency spokesman Officer Albert Morales. His salary with overtime in 2015 came to $113,000, according to Transparent California.

When asked whether Garibay was disciplined for using apparently excessive force, Morales declined to comment.

“[The] question is a personnel matter,” Morales wrote in an email to San Jose Inside, “and we are not at liberty to share any information.”

Berki said neither he nor his client were given no indication that the officer was ever reprimanded or re-trained.

“We’re both really dismayed that it took this long to resolve the case and that my client had to go through all this,” Berki said. “This could have been resolved a lot sooner.”

Click here to read a copy of the complaint.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

5 Comments

  1. SJPD will eventually and the City will eventually have no money for these idiotic criminal behaviors. It’s simple just put one of these idiots in jail for ten years and advise the others that is what awaits them if they do this again. If there are no consequences there is no change. You see what’s happening across the country, cops keep getting acquitted or mistrialed and the people they do this to are just walking up and shooting cops. Eventually I guess these poorly educated, poorly trained, poorly led and supervised people will hunker down at PAB and run concertina wire around the building. Then they can be safe. In the late sixties some of our idiots beat them up, shot them in the back and the media filmed it and showed it nationally and we lost our reputations then they started fighting back and killing us. Well soon we got rid of the cowards but we lost our pride and value. THERE IS NOW NO WAY BACK 8 dead in just a matter of weeks.

    Jack Slade

  2. If you are not resisting police officers at the entrance of the jail based on your own ignorance, after having been arrested for a charge that does not appear to be disputed, then there is a 0% chance you get dumped on your head for resisting.
    If there’s “NO WAY BACK” then let’s press forward.

    • Or – don’t perform a leg sweep on a cuffed person, and you don’t cost your department a massive settlement.

  3. So this person (a recent immigrant to our country) got himself arrested in his new country (which in my opinion shows total disrespect for his new community and us who live here and follow our laws), then based on his own ignorance of our laws and customs physically resists a police officer to the extent that another officer needs to come to his aid, bears no responsibility for the outcome of his own physical resistance? Is that your take on it? Or do you believe that if he only resisted to a minor extent the officers should not have tried to control him? Then what? Let him go so they don’t hurt him?

    I have the feeling that you believe that the only acceptable way of making him comply him was one in which there was no chance that he could get hurt. Unfortunately, once you begin a physical confrontation with someone there is ALWAYS a chance someone will get hurt. The likelihood of someone getting hurt when they begin a physical confrontation with the police is significantly high since the police cannot call on someone else to help them, they are it, and must see the confrontation through to the end. Running away from bad guys or allowing a situation to escalate beyond control only emboldens them and creates a more dangerous scenario. Dealing with the situation immediately, swiftly and with overwhelming power/force (just like we expect our military to do when they engage the enemy in order to save soldiers lives) is the best option in a bad scenario. A scenario not created by the officers in this case.

    It is my opinion that if you instigate a physical confrontation (especially based on your own ignorance of a foreign country’s laws and customs), then you are fully responsible for the end result. If you do not want that responsibility then do not start a fight or physically resist arrest. Just my two cents….

Leave a Reply