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D.A. finds SR officers feared for their lives when they killed man subsequently found unarmed

  • 4/10/2008: B1: Richard DeSantis

    Richard DeSantis

The Sonoma County district attorney said Santa Rosa police were justified in fatally shooting an unarmed bipolar man named Richard Timothy DeSantis a year ago.

"The evidence and the statements of the witnesses indicate that the officers reasonably feared for their lives and acted in legal self-defense," District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Friday.

The DeSantis case was one of four fatal shootings involving law enforcement officers and people dealing with mental difficulties since March of last year. It brought criticism and continuing legal action from family members and sparked community discussion on what can be done to help mentally ill people in distress.

The decision Friday to clear the officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Richard Celli and Officers Travis Menke and Patricia Mann, brought a sharp rebuke from the attorney representing the DeSantis family.

"It's shocking to learn that shooting an unarmed man isn't a crime," said Eric Safire, attorney for Patricia DeSantis, widow of Richard DeSantis. "To me, an unarmed man having a mental episode being shot with a high-caliber rifle is a crime," he said Friday.

He said he advised the family Friday not to comment on the district attorney's decision.

DeSantis, 30, was shot and killed April 9, 2007, outside his South Avenue home after his wife called authorities to report he was having a manic episode and had been shooting into the ceiling of their home, apparently believing there were enemies in the attic, authorities said.

Police said the lighting was poor and not all of them could see Richard DeSantis' hands when he came outside. They said they did not know he was unarmed, according to a statement from the District Attorney's Office released Friday.

Menke ordered DeSantis to get on the ground, stretch out his arms and turn his face to one side.

He complied initially, but then pulled his hands back to his body and continued to move his head back and forth before jumping suddenly to his feet and sprinting toward the officer, the district attorney's statement said.

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