A San Jose man is suing the city of Mountain View alleging police officers illegally arrested him in 2019 and used excessive force when they dragged him out of his car window.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of San Jose resident Mario Edgardo Melendez last week, claims that officer Benjamin Kroutil forcefully grabbed Melendez and pulled him out of his car through an open window, causing him to hit the ground and suffer injuries. He is seeking a grand total of $10 million for compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit alleges that officers had no reason to suspect criminal wrongdoing in the first place, and claims police unnecessarily escalated the situation. Melendez was arrested on charges of resisting a police officer, which were later dismissed.
City officials declined to comment on pending litigation.
The incident occurred in July 2019 around 2:25 a.m., when Melendez was in his parked car on the 200 block of Castro Street. The lawsuit said that Melendez was waiting for the car to warm up when Kroutil parked behind him, waiting several minutes before approaching Melendez's vehicle.
Kroutil told Melendez that he had run a scan on his license plate and did not receive any results, and asked Melendez for identification, according to both the lawsuit and the police report of the incident. Melendez refused to provide identification and said that he had done nothing wrong.
During the confrontation, another officer parked directly in front of Melendez's car to block him from leaving, and a spike trap was placed under his vehicle. Melendez repeatedly asked for Kroutil's supervisor, according to the suit, and Kroutil said he would arrest Melendez and take him to jail if he continued to delay the investigation.
In the police report, Kroutil wrote that he was worried 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 that it posed a significant risk to his safety. He also wrote that the vehicle had not been checked for weapons and may have been stolen.
What happened next is where the police report and the lawsuit diverge. According to the police report, Kroutil said he and assisting officers had taken control of Melendez through his window and removed him in a "controlled manner," setting him on the ground. According to the lawsuit, Kroutil and a second officer grabbed Melendez's hand, forcing him to drop his cell phone and causing the screen to crack, before violently pulling him out of the car.
Melendez fell into the road, slamming his face and body on the ground, according to the suit. He suffered injuries to his head, left eye, shoulder and chest. The suit claims that Melendez also lost consciousness at some point after hitting the ground and suffered a concussion.
The police report states that officers later located a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration card inside the vehicle showing Melendez was the registered owner, and that his car had been registered the day prior. Kroutil said in the report that it was "unknown" why it had not been updated in the DMV's database.
The civil complaint names three other officers -- Anthony Reinosa, Joshua Lai and Jeffrey Reed -- as defendants in the case. It alleges that Reed allowed "unlawful conduct" on the part of his subordinates, and that Lai failed to intervene in an "unreasonable seizure and arrest."
"The actions by said defendants were committed maliciously and oppressively, and constituted despicable conduct sufficient for an award of punitive (and) exemplary damages against all defendants," the lawsuit states.
Mountain View faced these allegations early last year in a claim against the city, which was unanimously rejected by the City Council in February.