News

Injured man seeks $100K, claiming Mountain View cops used excessive force in pulling him out a car window

City Council rejects claim; incident escalated after officer asked man in parked car why his vehicle wasn't showing up in database

The Mountain View City Council rejected a $100,000 claim from a man arrested by police on a misdemeanor charge who alleged that officers acted unlawfully when they grabbed him and pulled him out of a car window.

The council's action at the Feb. 25 meeting opens a six-month window for the man to file a lawsuit.

The claim, filed on behalf of Mario Melendez, describes how police officer Benjamin Kroutil stopped Melendez while he was parked in downtown Mountain View last July and, with the help of a second officer, dragged Melendez from the vehicle through the window. The claim states Melendez hit the ground, injuring his head, chest and left eye.

Kroutil was patrolling the downtown area shortly after 2 a.m. on July 27 when he spotted Melendez's vehicle and ran a check on its license plate. Kroutil couldn't find any records on file for the vehicle, and approached Melendez to ask about the ownership and status of the 1980 Honda Civic.

Melendez, according to the claim, told Kroutil to check the license plate again for all the information he needed. Kroutil, "annoyed" by the response, reportedly placed spikes on the vehicle's tires to prevent Melendez from driving away. He then allegedly grabbed Melendez' cellphone out of his hand before pulling him out the car window.

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Melendez was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries before he was transferring to Santa Clara County jail. He is facing one misdemeanor charge of resisting or delaying a public officer, to which he pleaded not guilty.

The attorney representing Melendez, Ronald Z. Berki, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the police report for the incident, Kroutil wrote that Melendez had been confrontational from the start, insisting that that it wasn't his problem that Kroutil couldn't find the vehicle in the database. Melendez had repeatedly asserted he didn't have to tell or show police anything because he was neither driving nor doing anything wrong. Melendez pulled out his phone as if he was recording the incident, according to the report.

In making the case for the arrest and use of force, Kroutil wrote in the report that the Honda could have been stolen or involved in criminal activity and had not been checked for weapons, posing an "immediate danger" to officers at the scene. He also suggested that Castro Street's open and active bars meant there were "drunken patrons" in the area who could pose a danger to officers assisting in the investigation if they got behind the wheel.

The claim states that Kroutil refused a request by Melendez to summon his supervising officer. Kroutil's report argued that waiting for his supervisor would have been dangerous.

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"I felt that waiting for a supervisor to respond and negotiate with Melendez would only give him more time to develop a plan to escape or attack officers and posed a significant risk to our safety," according to the police report.

Counter to the the claim, Kroutil said he and assisting officers "took control" of Melendez's arms, removed him from the vehicle in a "controlled manner" and set him down on the ground. Officers located a DMV registration card in the vehicle showing Melendez was the registered owner, and that he had registered the vehicle "earlier that day," likely referring to Friday, July 26. The DMV had issued new plates for the vehicle, and Kroutil said it was "unknown" why it hadn't been updated in the computer database.

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Injured man seeks $100K, claiming Mountain View cops used excessive force in pulling him out a car window

City Council rejects claim; incident escalated after officer asked man in parked car why his vehicle wasn't showing up in database

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Mar 2, 2020, 11:39 am
Updated: Mon, Mar 2, 2020, 12:01 pm

The Mountain View City Council rejected a $100,000 claim from a man arrested by police on a misdemeanor charge who alleged that officers acted unlawfully when they grabbed him and pulled him out of a car window.

The council's action at the Feb. 25 meeting opens a six-month window for the man to file a lawsuit.

The claim, filed on behalf of Mario Melendez, describes how police officer Benjamin Kroutil stopped Melendez while he was parked in downtown Mountain View last July and, with the help of a second officer, dragged Melendez from the vehicle through the window. The claim states Melendez hit the ground, injuring his head, chest and left eye.

Kroutil was patrolling the downtown area shortly after 2 a.m. on July 27 when he spotted Melendez's vehicle and ran a check on its license plate. Kroutil couldn't find any records on file for the vehicle, and approached Melendez to ask about the ownership and status of the 1980 Honda Civic.

Melendez, according to the claim, told Kroutil to check the license plate again for all the information he needed. Kroutil, "annoyed" by the response, reportedly placed spikes on the vehicle's tires to prevent Melendez from driving away. He then allegedly grabbed Melendez' cellphone out of his hand before pulling him out the car window.

Melendez was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries before he was transferring to Santa Clara County jail. He is facing one misdemeanor charge of resisting or delaying a public officer, to which he pleaded not guilty.

The attorney representing Melendez, Ronald Z. Berki, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the police report for the incident, Kroutil wrote that Melendez had been confrontational from the start, insisting that that it wasn't his problem that Kroutil couldn't find the vehicle in the database. Melendez had repeatedly asserted he didn't have to tell or show police anything because he was neither driving nor doing anything wrong. Melendez pulled out his phone as if he was recording the incident, according to the report.

In making the case for the arrest and use of force, Kroutil wrote in the report that the Honda could have been stolen or involved in criminal activity and had not been checked for weapons, posing an "immediate danger" to officers at the scene. He also suggested that Castro Street's open and active bars meant there were "drunken patrons" in the area who could pose a danger to officers assisting in the investigation if they got behind the wheel.

The claim states that Kroutil refused a request by Melendez to summon his supervising officer. Kroutil's report argued that waiting for his supervisor would have been dangerous.

"I felt that waiting for a supervisor to respond and negotiate with Melendez would only give him more time to develop a plan to escape or attack officers and posed a significant risk to our safety," according to the police report.

Counter to the the claim, Kroutil said he and assisting officers "took control" of Melendez's arms, removed him from the vehicle in a "controlled manner" and set him down on the ground. Officers located a DMV registration card in the vehicle showing Melendez was the registered owner, and that he had registered the vehicle "earlier that day," likely referring to Friday, July 26. The DMV had issued new plates for the vehicle, and Kroutil said it was "unknown" why it hadn't been updated in the computer database.

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Comments

40 yrs in MV
Slater
on Mar 2, 2020 at 12:56 pm
40 yrs in MV, Slater
on Mar 2, 2020 at 12:56 pm
24 people like this

Seems like a pretty clear cut case of loss of qualified immunity, the officer lost his cool and instead of walking away as he should have he chose to break the law. The victim here is the person in the car who only stood up for his 5A right to remain silent. The city is on the hook in part, the 100k payout is cheap, they should fire the officer and settle instead of going to court where the fines could get into the high 6 figures. Most importantly the officer should be sued in federal court of civil right violations.


Cop blew it
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm
Cop blew it, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm
20 people like this

Yes, sometimes you need to swallow your ego and know that no matter how smarmy and punkish a person is acting, if he's acting within his legal rights, you MUST stand down. Otherwise YOU become the criminal.
Well, or you can satisfy your ego then have your name plastered all over the paper as the cop who isn't good at being a cop.


resident
Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 1:33 pm
resident, Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 1:33 pm
21 people like this

The man was sitting in his legally owned car and the cops still beat him up? Would they have done this to a white man? Is this cop still working for the city?


Resident
Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:14 pm
Resident, Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:14 pm
10 people like this

There's a great book from years ago, titled, "The Rise of the Warrior Cop", which goes into the changes happening in the equipping and training of police officers since the beginning of the drug war. The short version is that police are being trained using increasingly military tactics and taught to overpower and arrest, with little focus on de-escalation. This leads to an "us" vs "them" mentality towards the general public, and normal human tribe mentality slips in. The old school beat cops in their blue uniforms have been replaced with effectively armored soldiers trained to attack and arrest and let the courts sort it out.

There is scant information in this article to know what actually happened, but I really do hope that if this cop used their legally privileged status to beat their frustration onto an innocent person, that they lose their job and are held personally responsible for damages. I don't want to pay this lawsuit from my taxes.


Maybe?
Bailey Park
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:49 pm
Maybe?, Bailey Park
on Mar 2, 2020 at 3:49 pm
35 people like this

Are we assuming that nothing the officer said is true and that the "victim" is 100% in the right? If that were true I doubt the city council would have rejected the claim. Since the driver wouldn't show any proof of ownership how would the officer know the car wasn't stolen? Should he have just walked away when the driver refused cooperation? If the car were stolen and it was mine, I wouldn't have been happy about that. This "victim" created his own problem. He should have shown the cop his DMV registration...


@Maybe?
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2020 at 4:24 pm
@Maybe?, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2020 at 4:24 pm
23 people like this

Yes, in the world of imagination we can dream up any scenario that supports what we want. The reality though, is that as this story was written there was zero need to physical violence by the cop and doing so by the cop would be illegal., A crime. That's what the story describes, an actual crime.

At no time in your imaginings have you given a reason that legally allows the cop to use violence. He should have detained the subject while he remained in his car and waited for backup to do more investigation.
You'll have to imagine harder next time.


Andy sup
Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 4:54 pm
Andy sup, Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 4:54 pm
1 person likes this

What if they were filming an episode of COPS? They had to make it look good


Sense
Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:11 pm
Sense, Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:11 pm
41 people like this

What is wrong with most of you commenters??? Didn't you read the article?

In the rare case that a license-plate number comes back as nonexistent when police check it (against DMV's data base), that's an immediate red-flag warning. It can mean the plate number is fake (the car stolen), or, occasionally, that the vehicle is "special" (e.g. part of a federal undercover operation), in which case there'd be corroborating indications.

Here, according to the account above, at 2AM the driver of such an already very suspicious car was uncooperative to routine police orders (remember, driving is a "privilege, not a right," under California law, and subject to police interventions); the vehicle logically "could have been stolen or involved in criminal activity and had not been checked for weapons," creating "an 'immediate danger' to officers at the scene." The driver had the option of doing various things to de-escalate the situation, but chose not to. The officer had to make spot decisions with limited information and allowing for very grave possibilities.

Whenever a claim like this emerges -- encouraged usually by opportunistic litigation attorneys -- Monday-morning quarterback commenters (equipped with far more information than the officer had at the time, and reasoning from the comfort of their armchairs rather than on a dark night with limited help and tense circumstances) are quick to blame the professionals who put themselves on the line repeatedly in such situations, with very little thanks. That is, to the extent that all the comments are even sincere (and not part of litigation preparation, which does happen).

Fortunately the City Council is more thoughtful and has solid legal advice, so they made a well-reasoned decision.


ImScurred
Whisman Station
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:46 pm
ImScurred, Whisman Station
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:46 pm
9 people like this

Wow! Who knew downtown Mountain View at night was so scary for Police Officers that then need to escalate a situation using violence in order not to be be put at risk by drunk nerds coming out of bars. When did cops become such wimps? They should be required do a month in a prison and learn how to de-escalate situations with actual violent criminals before being placed in contact with the general public. Must have been a traumatic night for Officer Kroutil and his family, I hope he doesn't need counseling for that very scary situation he was in dealing with a guy sitting in his car.


Resident
Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:54 pm
Resident, Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2020 at 6:54 pm
5 people like this

@sense: Why even bother stopping a person who's not doing anything other than sitting in their car? Either this article skips over some important details, or this was somewhat arbitrary action. Also, this "privilege not a right" nonsense has to die - it's how people take rights away. Once upon a time, it was taken for granted that everyone had a right to the roads, albeit a long time ago, but now we think of it as a privilege.

@ImScurred: I live near downtown. When Opal, Monte Carlo and Alberto's get out at 2am, this can get rowdy from time to time. There's lots of drunk macho nonsense happening in the parking lots.

Still, I think police are generally too willing to use force. If the dude in the old honda wasn't doing anything other than sitting in it, why bother him?


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Mar 2, 2020 at 7:04 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Mar 2, 2020 at 7:04 pm
15 people like this

i'd have to research whether he had a duty to hand over the registration. I gather the car had no plates. If he is charged with delaying an officer, the DA's Office thinks he failed to do something required by law. But what were his injuries? $100,000 for what?


Confused
Cuernavaca
on Mar 2, 2020 at 11:29 pm
Confused, Cuernavaca
on Mar 2, 2020 at 11:29 pm
7 people like this

I feel so sad for this guy whose hard-earned money is used to support a police officer who beat him up for just sitting in his car late at night. DMV should really put their sh*t together and fix their data system.


Overpaid police
Rengstorff Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 8:14 am
Overpaid police, Rengstorff Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 8:14 am
9 people like this

I advise readers to briefly google this officers name. He is the one with disturbing wrap sheet...this man is a sadist and needs to be put away. He is far from qualified to police (our ever so boring town). He needs to be band from law enforcement all together. It angers me that someone like that is given the opportunity such as that.

My SO has possibly had someone runins with him..not sure. Either way my SO is in his 50s and suffers from severe ptsd almost daily thanks to overpaid scum such as that. Sadly that type of law enforcement was a standard during my SOs formative years. Thank you technology for giving us an avenue to expose these monsters. I hope the victim gets paid. And everyone, make sure you are heard. We have some wonderful officers but also a handful of incompetent overpaid abusive should never be police on the force as well. This is our money! Dont let these sadists hoard it and overcompemsate the negative dangerous and harmful behaviour!


Resident
North Whisman
on Mar 3, 2020 at 8:58 am
Resident, North Whisman
on Mar 3, 2020 at 8:58 am
19 people like this

The arm chair quarterback from behind the safety of their screens are being critical of the Police, no surprise. The question is why didn't this man comply when the officer told him to?


judicial review
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 9:47 am
judicial review, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 9:47 am
2 people like this

corporal punishment = Police violence


@Resident
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:08 am
@Resident, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:08 am
20 people like this

Where in the story do you think violence was legally used, whatever the reason imagined, what actions allowed the cop to use violence legally?
Illegal use of violence is criminal assault. I'm actually a FAN of cops and thus want to weed out all the bad ones acting like loose canons.
Now we have to pay another chunk of money to some lousy person because of bad police work.


judicial review
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:21 am
judicial review, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:21 am
1 person likes this

Web Link
Benjamin Kroutil


Otto Maddox
Monta Loma
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:38 am
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:38 am
8 people like this

Why didn't the man comply?

BECAUSE HE DIDN'T HAVE TO COMPLY. He wasn't breaking the law. He wasn't required to provide anything to that cop.

It's called freedom. That includes the freedom to be left alone.

A cop doesn't get to just demand papers from people. I don't have to prove I own my car or that it's registered based on a whim or mere suspicion.


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:12 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:12 am
3 people like this

Let me see - how does 'THIS type of policy' differ That much from the Bloomberget NYC "stop and frisk" policy? If many Democrats, so hate Bloomberg for that, I sure hope that they can see why this process (or at least 'the story of this process, as best we know') is perhaps what the residents, citizens, and voting electorate of Mountain View want their policing force to do.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE - was the interim City Manager during the Council discussions and action on this matter. Please - the new City Manager is Now In City Hall! (*just checked . started 3/02/2020)
Yesterday MARCH 2.
Web Link

Please write/email/call the NEW Permanent City Manager. It will go to Not Police Chief Bosel!
(650) 903-6301, [email protected], USPS City Manager, 500 Castro St., Mountain View CA 94041


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:16 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:16 am
1 person likes this

I left out the critical NOT want. (which matches my own opinion)

If you like the current policing system, no cause for action. If you want to redress your grievances, start with the New chief administrator. Move on to the Council. Then remember this come Council-runs-for-office (Nov. balloting).


judicial review
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:42 am
judicial review, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:42 am
1 person likes this

If you want to redress your grievances. contact the city? This was done already.

I can only hope, the legal activity starts.


Sense
Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2020 at 9:27 am
Sense, Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2020 at 9:27 am
24 people like this

Otto Maddox: "Why didn't the man comply? BECAUSE HE DIDN'T HAVE TO COMPLY. He wasn't breaking the law. He wasn't required to provide anything to that cop."

Complete nonsense. I already outlined earlier why that notion is wrong, before Otto Maddox even wrote it. Details below.

I don't claim to know if the people stubbornly asserting misinformation in comments here do so from ignorance or conscious deception; either way, they're wrong to do it. (Misinformation in CAPITAL LETTERS only impugns its writer further.) Per the article, the suspect wasn't just standing around, he was in the driver's seat of a vehicle whose plate number came up as nonexistent. He refused to cooperate (as required -- not optional) with a police officer properly trying, among other things, to rule out [from a possible felon -- CVC 4463] further threats such as weapons. In such situations a standard tactical maneuver is to physically pull the driver out through the window, which this officer did. (A friend who's a police officer in another jurisdiction did that in similar circumstances; he was commended.) Any injuries experienced by the suspect arose out of his own actions. No amount of repeated rhetoric or misinformation changes the reality.

____
CVC 4462. (a) The driver of a motor vehicle shall present the registration or identification card or other evidence of registration of any or all vehicles under his or her immediate control for examination upon demand of any peace officer.

CVC 12951. (b) The driver of a motor vehicle shall present his or her license for examination upon demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code.

CVC 4463. (a) A person who, with intent to prejudice, damage, or defraud, commits any of the following acts is guilty of a felony...: Alters, forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a certificate of ownership, registration card, certificate, license, license plate, temporary license plate, device issued pursuant to Section 4853, special plate, or permit provided for by this code...


MV_Voter
Rex Manor
on Mar 4, 2020 at 10:13 am
MV_Voter, Rex Manor
on Mar 4, 2020 at 10:13 am
2 people like this

I once had a car which was Non-Op for about 3 years. I had the motor changed, registered it and then drove it home. A couple of days later, we had company. As they were leaving, they came back to the door asking if that car being towed outside is mine. The cops were towing it because the registration hadn't gone thru. It was about 10:00PM, not late at all. They didn't knock on the door, didn't call. They just wanted to tow my car. Had our company not told me, I would have had to pay for storage, towing, etc...not to mention the stress. After about 30 minutes, they took the car off of the tow truck.
My point is, this is pretty much what happened to Mr. Melendez, except he was in his car minding his own business. They took his phone, which, I assume, was in an effort to protect themselves from the truth coming out. The truth is that this was uncalled for. They did, after all, later find Mr. Melendez was the rightful owner of a legally registered car. MVPD was so wrong on this, and he should be compensated - and not out of MTV funds!


Perrier
Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2020 at 2:34 pm
Perrier, Old Mountain View
on Mar 4, 2020 at 2:34 pm
Like this comment

Modesto, Sunnyvale and now MV - trouble with this officer

Web Link


judicial review
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:15 am
judicial review, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 8:15 am
Like this comment

The car was parked. no person was driving, There was no driver.
a person sitting in a car not moving, the officer did not see the car move.
more copsplaing

CVC 4462. (a) The driver of a motor vehicle shall present the registration or identification card or other evidence of registration of any or all vehicles under his or her immediate control for examination upon demand of any peace officer.

CVC 12951. (b) The driver of a motor vehicle shall present his or her license for examination upon demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code.

CVC 4463. (a) A person who, with intent to prejudice, damage, or defraud, commits any of the following acts is guilty of a felony...: Alters, forges, counterfeits, or falsifies a certificate of ownership, registration card, certificate, license, license plate, temporary license plate, device issued pursuant to Section 4853, special plate, or permit provided for by this code...


Sense
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 10:44 am
Sense, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2020 at 10:44 am
13 people like this

You people simply do not know what you are talking about, and don't care. You defend basic factual fallacies with your own further armchair suppositions, grasping at any imagined straw. No wonder articles like this one accumulate mostly misinformed comments!

In statute and precedent, a person such as the suspect described in the article is a "driver." California Vehicle Code requires only "physical control of a vehicle" -- not motion, not a running motor. Why else could you imagine an officer would place tire restraints to prevent the suspect from driving away? But people like "judicial review" would know all that already, if they were entitled to opinions on the point.


judicial review
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2020 at 9:21 am
judicial review, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2020 at 9:21 am
Like this comment

...and precedent

This is what needs to be changed, The court is not helping it appears. Precedent is not LAW. It is called the color of LAW.
The car was not moving. Why did the Police do what they did?
Safety? This is police work?


Common Sense
another community
on Mar 7, 2020 at 10:56 pm
Common Sense, another community
on Mar 7, 2020 at 10:56 pm
2 people like this

Any officer would have recognized the plates were a relatively new issue - both from the appearance and the series of letter/numbers as states don't simply stamp out random combinations. The officer is liar. The officer simply had to do what - run the VIN number! Stolen/Used in a crime? Ludicrous as there was no report of it being described or matching the description of a vehicle used in criminal activity. Danger? Hmm a citizen using his phone to report the officer's behavior? Planning an escape? Hmmm where's the probable cause for the basis of these fictitious ramblings? Did the officer technically have the right to ask for information? If he had been telling the truth about why he was doing it - yes - but the obvious statements made to create all types of rational that this might've been, could be, was a criminal planning an escape, or had committed a crime, or was an immediate danger to law enforcement is absolutely ridiculous.Oh and don't forget the probable drunks planning to commit crimes in the vehicle in question. The god complex is a real problem - remember they are here to protect and serve us - or at least that what they say. Let's not forget from Mr Smart Guy that said citizen MIGHT'VE been committing a FELONY CV4463 - no facts to support that theory.

Just the FACTS...


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