Supreme Court: Family of man shot by police can sue
Published: Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
A U.S. Supreme Court judge ruled Monday that the family of a bipolar Santa Rosa man who was shot and killed by police officers during a 2007 confrontation can proceed with their lawsuit against the Santa Rosa Police Department.
The decision was the final blow to the city's bid to stop the family of Richard DeSantis, 30, from bringing their federal civil rights suit to trial. A jury will decide whether officers knew the man was unarmed and could have used nonlethal force to subdue him.
Police have argued that their officers were forced to make a quick decision when the man stopped following their orders and ran toward them.
A federal judge ruled that the case should be decided by a jury, a decision upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in April. On Monday, a U.S. Supreme Court panel denied Santa Rosa's petition to review that decision.
“It means we have a chance to get some justice here,” said the family's attorney, Eric Safire. “We're prepared to prove that Mr. DeSantis' and his family's rights were violated.”
Police officers confronted DeSantis outside his South Avenue home in Roseland on April 9, 2007. His wife had called 911 to ask for help with her mentally ill husband, whom she said was having a manic episode.
She told dispatchers her husband had shot at the ceiling toward enemies he believed were in the home's attic. The family said she also told dispatchers she had “secured the gun.”
DeSantis initially complied with the officers' commands to get on the ground when he exited his home, authorities said. At some point he got up and ran toward the officers.
A “less-than-lethal projectile” didn't subdue him, and Sgt. Richard Celli and Officers Travis Menke and Patricia Mann fired their weapons.
The Sonoma County District Attorney's office under Stephan Passalacqua found in May of 2008 that the officers' actions were justified.
DeSantis' wife, Patricia, filed a civil rights suit against the department, the sergeant and the two officers who fired their weapons on June 27, 2007.
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