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Family of Santa Rosa man killed in 2007 police shooting settles lawsuit for $1 million

The family of a mentally ill man shot to death by a Santa Rosa police sergeant in 2007 has settled its case against the city for just over $1 million.

The settlement of the lawsuit brought by the family of Richard DeSantis was finalized last week by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero.

Most of the money will go to the family's lawyers.

The action brings to close five years of legal wrangling over the shooting of DeSantis, an iron worker who went off his medication and began shooting a handgun in the ceiling of his home at 1 a.m.

The case was one of several in 2007 and 2008 involving law enforcement officers killing people in mental distress, prompting the county to establish a special team of mental health professionals help officers respond to such situations.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said he strongly believes all the officers acted appropriately in the DeSantis case and said the settlement is not an admission of police wrongdoing.

"This is not something that we wanted at any point," Schwedhelm said of the settlement. "But when you factor in the totality of circumstances — with some things we had control over and other things we didn't — this is the most appropriate settlement for all parties involved."

The city fought for years to block the case from going to a jury, arguing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that the officers' actions in the case were justified. Officers who testified at trial said they never got a chance to search DeSantis and didn't know whether he was still armed with a Glock pistol when he charged at them.

A federal jury in San Francisco found the shooting violated DeSantis' civil rights and did not serve a "legitimate law enforcement purpose." Judge Jeffrey White later overturned the jury's verdict, calling it "contrary to the clear weight of the evidence" and saying "it would be a miscarriage of justice to let it stand."

The judge found that even if Sgt. Richard Celli, who fired the fatal shot, acted too quickly by not waiting to see if additional non-lethal rounds would subdue DeSantis, that alone "in light of the quickly evolving situation" was not enough to allow the jury to reach its verdict.


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