Family and friends of Richard DeSantis gathered at a park Wednesday, one year after he was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police while suffering from mental problems.
"Richard was alone when this happened. His wife was not allowed to be with him as he was dying," said Adrianne DeSantis, the mother of the 30-year-old man. "I didn't want him to be alone this year, on the first anniversary."
She helped organize a gathering that drew about 25 people to a gazebo in Olive Park for a memorial that started with an American Indian song.
Although the DeSantis family is not Indian, his mother said the ceremonial presentation held special meaning.
"Richard liked to do drumming himself," she said by phone. "There was a drum circle in October that really touched me, so I wanted to open this with a spiritual centering."
DeSantis helped with the vigil arrangements, but said she preferred to stay home to focus on memories of her son.
He was unarmed when shot by officers responding to a 911 call made by his wife, who told dispatchers he was firing a gun in their home because he heard noises from the attic.
She told officers he was no longer armed when they arrived. He was shot after refusing orders to stay down on the driveway and after a non-lethal plastic round failed to stop him, police said.
Family members said DeSantis was bipolar and stopped taking his medication the day before the shooting.
A community debate about the appropriate use of deadly force by police when dealing with people in mental distress has arisen in the wake of four shootings in Sonoma County in less than a year.
DeSantis' mother has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the city and the officers, alleging use of excessive force. It has been combined with a federal civil rights suit filed by his widow, Patty.
The somber gathering at Olive Park, which included DeSantis' widow and children, Timothy, 11, and Dani Michelle, 3, focused on happier times.
"He was all about living life to the fullest. I miss him every day and see him every day in the kids," Patty DeSantis said.
Several people who never met DeSantis attended, they said, to show respect and support for those struggling with mental health issues.
DeSantis was a graduate of San Antonio High and worked as a journeyman welder.
"Richard was a part of the community," his mother said. "He was a contributing member. He was someone who loved Sonoma County."
You can reach Staff Writer Rayne Wolfe at 521-5240 or firstname.lastname@example.org