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.”
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.
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.