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Federal judge throws out judgment in fatal Santa Rosa police shooting

A federal judge has granted a new civil trial for a Santa Rosa police sergeant who was found to be at fault in the shooting death of a mentally ill Santa Rosa man, police said Tuesday.

Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled there was insufficient evidence for the September verdict against Sgt. Richard Celli, who along with two other officers shot Richard DeSantis, 30, outside his home in 2007.

Jurors awarded the family $500,000 plus attorney fees.

In granting the city of Santa Rosa's motion for a new trial, White found Celli was credible in testifying that he fired his gun because he feared for the safety of himself and the other officers. Also, White said there was no evidence that Celli acted with intent to harm DeSantis outside of legitimate law enforcement purposes.

"The court recognized that the situation was escalated by Mr. DeSantis when he charged at the officers and that the offi-cers, including Sergeant Celli, did not do anything to provoke the situation," Chief Tom Schwedhelm said in a written statement.

The judge has asked both sides to try to settle the case within 90 days; if not, a new trial date will be set.

The city's appeal effectively froze any payment to the family, the chief said.

DeSantis, a disabled ironworker, had gone off his medication for bipolar disorder in preparation for returning to work the Monday after Easter 2007.

Around 1 p.m., he said he heard noises in the attic and began shooting a Glock semiautomatic pistol into the ceiling of his South Avenue home in Roseland in what his wife has called a manic episode. Patricia DeSantis called 911 for help.

When officers arrived, DeSantis was not wearing a shirt, had nothing in his hands and initially complied with orders to get on the ground, his attorney said.

Patricia DeSantis testified that she told officers she had recovered the gun.

Officers never got the chance to pat him down to confirm that he didn't have a weapon because he jumped up suddenly and charged at them, according to police accounts. One officer fired a nonlethal projectile at DeSantis, striking him in the arm.

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