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Police cleared in shooting of Santa Rosa man

Published: Friday, May 2, 2008 at 2:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 at 2:09 p.m.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has ruled Santa Rosa Police were justified in their fatal shooting of an unarmed bipolar man named Richard Timothy DeSantis one 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.

“I think it’s also important to note that the 911 calls confirms the danger that they faced that night, given that the wife, who called police, indicated that Mr. DeSantis was shooting a handgun in the ceiling in front of her and the two small children.

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.

Two children, aged 2 and 8, also were home, the District Attorney’s Office said in press release Friday. Investigators later seized at least two firearms from inside, the statement says.

Family members later said his widow, Patricia DeSantis, told officers that her husband was unarmed and motioned to them in the moments before they shot him that he had no weapon.

“It’s shocking to learn that shooting an unarmed man isn’t a crime,” Patricia DeSantis’ attorney, Eric Safire, said Friday.

DeSantis’ wife and mother have each filed federal civil rights suits against Santa Rosa Police, Flint and the officers involved, claiming authorities used excessive force against DeSantis in violation of his constitutional rights.

Those cases are pending.

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 the statement from the District Attorney’s Office.

One officer, Travis 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 Office said.

It was clear by then he was not holding a weapon, but police said they believed he might have one concealed in his pants as he charged Menke and Office Patricia Mann.

Police Sgt. Jerry Soares, one of five other officers at the scene, fired a less-than-lethal weapon that launches polyurethane projectiles, striking DeSantis in the arm, breaking it, the District Attorney’s Office said.

DeSantis did not stop running, however, and three other officers fired their guns: Sgt. Richard Celli and Officers Menke and Mann.

Celli’s round struck DeSantis in the torso, as did one of the bullets fired either by Mann or Menke, the District Attorney said. It apparently was never determined whose bullet it was.

“We are pleased to see that the officers were not held criminally liable and that they acted appropriately,” Santa Rosa Police Chief Ed Flint said Friday.

“Of course my heart also goes out to the DeSantis family in this tragic situation,” he said.

He called it a tragedy for the family and for the officers involved.

The Sheriff's Department previously have said interviews with family members following the shooting revealed that DeSantis used psychiatric medication to battle a bipolar disorder and “has been using methamphetamine, as well.”

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