Man charged with murder in Palms Inn killing pleads not guilty

Skyler Rasmussen, 27, has been charged with multiple felony counts in the December death of William Woodard. Advocates plan to protest what they say is a lack of safety at the facility.|

The man charged with murder in the Dec. 13 killing of a beloved resident at the Palms Inn permanent supportive housing facility pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him Wednesday.

Skyler Rasmussen, 27, has been charged with multiple felony counts in the death of William Woodard.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge set a preliminary hearing for June 23.

Woodward, 37, had been featured in a Press Democrat investigation into health and safety issues at the Palms, a converted motel on Santa Rosa Avenue that had been hailed as a model solution for homelessness.

This week, civil rights groups concerned about the state of affairs at the Palms upped their advocacy, a March 13 rally where people will march to the 104-unit facility from Prince Gateway Park — a distance of nearly three miles.

Woodard was stabbed to death on Dec. 13, and Rasmussen was arrested two days later. Little remains publicly known about prosecutors’ case against Rasmussen or why and how he ended up in the second-floor Palms Inn room where Woodard was stabbed repeatedly.

Evan Zelig, a Santa Rosa defense attorney the court-appointed to represent Rasmussen, said Wednesday that he is continuing to gather information about the case and declined to discuss a possible defense strategy publicly.

“We still have quite a bit of defense investigation ongoing,” he said.

Rasmussen was not a resident of the Palms and had walked away from a court-ordered rehabilitation facility six days before the homicide.

The death raised new questions about security and living conditions at the Palms Inn, where Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies are frequent visitors and residents say drugs and crime have been widespread issues as the property’s owner has sought to boost security.

In 2022, law enforcement was called to the property more than 300 times, according to dispatch log data acquired by the Press Democrat.

Experts said the challenge of facilities like Palms Inn is meeting the needs of residents coming off years on the streets and often carrying with them addiction, mental health and behavioral issues. That has to be balanced with maintaining an overall healthy and safe living facility.

Palms Inn adheres to a “housing first” model, which focuses on getting people housed and their lives stabilized and then providing supportive services. Nationwide, the approach is widely credited with helping people remain in housing while reducing health care costs and incarceration.

The flyer for the March rally calls for community action to “stop the deaths” at the Palms. Organizations behind the rally are the Sonoma County NAACP, Sonoma County Acts of Kindness, the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, Love and Light and Centro del Poder Popular.

A press release about the event said Palms Inn residents and advocates worried about security, livability and health issues at the facility, and cited “a lack of adequate case management by Catholic Charities” and a lack of oversight from government officials as contributing to an unsafe facility.

In an email, Catholic Charities CEO Jennielynn Holmes said everyone at the Palms who is under her organization’s management — most residents of the property are placed and managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — received a case manager. But, she said, seeking services through case managers is voluntary.

Catholic Charities is bringing on new, on-site mental health care to the facility “in the near future,” she said.

The rally press release cited Woodard’s murder as “the most recent tragedy” at a facility that has “become a site of sickness and death.”

Independently, The Press Democrat has documented 16 deaths at the property since Jan. 1, 2016, through public records from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Unit.

Those reports may not necessarily capture every death at the Palms Inn. The coroner’s office gets involved in deaths where law enforcement reaches the scene first or where there is doubt about the cause of death, according to department spokesperson Deputy Rob Dillion.

Palms Inn owner Akash Kalia however said any death at the Palms Inn gets called into law enforcement and receives a coroner’s investigation. Advocates behind the March rally said residents are claiming a far higher number of deaths, which Kalia labeled “grossly inaccurate.”

In a phone interview, Katrina Phillips, the chair of the Sonoma County Human Rights Condition, said the organization is compiling a list of people who have died at the facility.

Kalia also said each unit is approved for habitation by city and county inspectors before a new resident moves in. In March of last year, the Sonoma County Housing Authority stopped approving new leases because of growing incidences of cockroaches, moisture issues and plumbing problems — which they found across 22 units at the Palms.

That agency resumed placements at the Palms after Kalia took steps to address the issues. Around the same time, Burbank Housing, a large affordable housing nonprofit, parted ways with Kalia over what Burbank leaders called a lack of investment to fix problems at the property.

Kalia disputed their account and said the property suffered under Burbank management.

This story has been updated to correct the date of the preliminary hearing for charges against Skyler Rasmussen.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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