The family of an unarmed, bipolar man shot and killed by Santa Rosa police has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officers, alleging they used excessive force and were poorly trained.
The wife and children of Richard DeSantis, 30, are seeking unspecified general and punitive damages against the city of Santa Rosa, police Officers Travis Menke and Patricia Mann and Sgts. Jerry Soares and Rich Celli.
The city's attorney said the officers had reason to believe that DeSantis was armed and fired in defense of their lives.
The shooting followed a 911 call at 1:15 a.m. April 9 from DeSantis' wife, Patricia, who told dispatchers her husband was firing a gun in their home because he thought he was hearing noises from the attic.
DeSantis told the dispatcher her husband had mental health problems, and that information was relayed to officers, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the shooting under a county protocol that calls for outside agencies to handle officer-involved fatalities.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Patricia DeSantis said she told the officers that the gun was in the house and physically demonstrated that her husband was unarmed.
A police statement issued after the shooting said officers didn't know if DeSantis was armed when they encountered him in the driveway of the South Avenue duplex.
The officers had "the right and duty to assume that he is armed based on what they knew," city attorney Brien Farrell said Friday.
Police said they ordered DeSantis down on the ground and that he briefly complied, but suddenly rose and charged the officers. Officers fired a nonlethal plastic projectile, but that failed to stop him so they fired conventional guns and struck him twice in his torso, police said.
The Sheriff's Department said interviews with family members following the shooting revealed that DeSantis was taking medication for bipolar disorder and had been using the illegal stimulant methamphetamine.
Bipolar disorder, which also is known as manic-depression, can cause unusual shifts in a person's mood and ability to function, according to the National Institutes for Mental Health.
Farrell said police fired at DeSantis to protect their lives.
"At the point where they did fire their guns he posed an immediate danger to the lives and safety of the officers," Farrell said.
Attorney John Scott of San Francisco, who represents Patricia DeSantis and the children, said: "Just because someone's running at you, who is unarmed, doesn't mean it's a life-threatening act," he said.
Scott said officers aren't given enough training in de-escalating situations, particularly with the mentally ill.
A case management conference is set for October.
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.