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Santa Rosa police critics question legal defense of officer in 2007 killing

Critics of the Santa Rosa Police Department called for a full accounting of the city's legal defense in the fatal shooting of Richard DeSantis and said the officer involved should be fired.

A small group of activists addressed the City Council on Tuesday, five days after a federal jury found a Santa Rosa police sergeant violated the civil rights of DeSantis when he fatally shot the unarmed man outside his Roseland home in 2007.

They urged the city not to continue spending money to appeal the case, which is five years old and has already been petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I think we need to cut our losses and move on," said Robert Edmonds, an outspoken critic of police on issues ranging from use of force to gang prevention.

Edmonds said it was a "poke in the eye" to residents of the city for Santa Rosa officials to continue to deny officers did anything wrong when a federal jury just found otherwise.

Attila Nagy, who last year took police to task for a SWAT display that allowed young children to handle high-powered weapons, said he, too, was concerned the city would spend more money defending the case given the city's financial constraints.

He said the use of lethal force in the case troubled him. "Any officer who does wrongful death like that can't be on the force," Nagy said.

Council members, who later went behind closed doors to discuss the status of the case, did not reply to the speakers.

But Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, who attended the two-week trial, defended not only the officer found liable in the case, Sgt. Richard Celli, but the other officers involved in the shooting as "very valuable members of our organization who acted in the appropriate fashion."

He noted that a thorough investigation by the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office cleared the officers of wrongdoing. Nothing he heard at trial changed his opinion that the shooting, while tragic, was justified.

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