09/02/2007

Mom of mentally ill man shot by officers sues Nor. Calif. police

By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The mother of an unarmed man with bipolar disorder who was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police after he allegedly charged at them has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, saying officers used excessive force.

Richard Desantis, a 30-year-old ironworker, was shot dead April 9 by officers in the driveway of his home, where he lived with his wife, Patricia, and two children.

Minutes earlier, he had fired about 10 pistol rounds into the ceiling of his home because he thought he heard strangers' voices. His wife, Patricia Desantis, called police, and by the time officers arrived she had taken away the gun.

Richard Desantis allegedly charged the officers. Sgt. Jerry Soares tried to subdue him using a nonlethal plastic projectile, but it had little effect, authorities said.

Sgt. Rich Celli then fired one shot from his rifle, and Officers Travis Menke and Patricia Mann each fired once from their handguns. Desantis was hit twice in the chest.

In a suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Adrianne Desantis said her daughter-in-law had told the officers that the gun was in the house and that "this was a mental health emergency."

But the police had already drawn their guns and "assumed a confrontational approach," said the suit, which names the city, Police Chief Edwin Flint, the two sergeants and two officers as defendants.

City Attorney Brien Farrell said Friday that the officers had to assume that Desantis was armed until they determined otherwise.

But Ben Nisenbaum, attorney for Adrianne Desantis, said, "The police were presented with the exact opposite information. Whatever information they had to believe he was armed was much older than the information that was right in front of them."

Patricia Desantis sued the city in June. That case is pending.

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

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