Second guessing cops

I’ve taken a news story and put the facts in a different order.  The story essentially starts with the last point, and organizes the facts based on that point.  I’ve put the last point last, because it’s an after-the-fact conclusion that should not color the report.  I wonder if you’ll agree with my understand of the facts, and think that, at the very least, the reporter got ahead of himself with his upfront conclusion. 

What police knew:

[Richard] Desantis, who lived with his wife and two young children in a Santa Rosa, had fired about 10 pistol rounds into the ceiling of his home before Santa Rosa police officers showed up at his door at about 1:19 a.m.


Desantis’ wife, Patricia, had called the county’s 911 dispatch center and asked for help, saying that her husband had fired shots into the attic with his handgun because he thought he heard strangers’ voices. She said her husband was bipolar, and had stopped taking his medication.

Minutes later, police officers arrived and found the couple in the driveway — along with two young children.

Police said Desantis’ wife was holding her 2-year-old girl in her arms and yelling at the officers that this was a mental health problem. Officers ordered Richard Desantis to the ground.


Police investigators said Desantis also used methamphetamine.


According to the police, Soares used a nonlethal weapon to fire a 3-inch-long plastic projectile at Desantis’ lower body to stop his assault. The projectile apparently broke Desantis’ arm, but he continued charging at three of the officers. Celli, Mann and Menke each fired one round. Two bullets struck Desantis in the torso, stopping his advance.

An ambulance crew said Desantis was dead at the scene. Detectives later recovered one rifle and two handguns from inside the home, including the one used to shoot into the ceiling.  

What police may or may not have known:

“She had disarmed him before the cops were there,” [Eric] Safire [the wife’s attorney] said. “She said, I got the gun, I got the gun. … I can’t say whether they heard her. He gets down on his knees with his hands up, then for some unknown reason advances toward them in some fashion.”   (Emphasis mine.)

What police are being accused of doing (per the opening paragraph in the news report):

A Santa Rosa ironworker was unarmed and in need of medication for bipolar disorder when he charged police and was shot dead early Monday in the driveway of his home, officials said Wednesday.

The death of Richard Desantis, 30, marks the second use of lethal force in four weeks by law enforcement officers in Sonoma County against a person with some form of mental illness.

In the earlier case, a 16-year-old Sebastopol boy was shot dead on March 12 by sheriff’s deputies who were called to his home after he threatened to kill his 6-year-old brother.

A lawyer representing Desantis’ widow asserted that both shootings were unjustified. “Evidently, the (police) training in Sonoma County is not effective,” said attorney Eric Safire of San Francisco.

It’s entirely possible that police may have overracted.  It’s just as likely though, that things played out another way.  Police knew as they approached the property that a deranged man was firing guns wildly, with young children nearby.  He was in front of the property when they arrived and, I have no doubt, they repeatedly yelled at him to get down.  Meanwhile, his wife was also screaming (and I bet the children were screaming, too).  The man partially complied, and then, this same man who had been reported as firing guns within his home, lunged at them.  He was undeterred by a warning, non-lethal shot.  So they shot again, and again.  In other words, based on the exact facts reported in this story under the opening opinion accusing the police of malfeasance, there’s very good evidence that, on the ground, without Monday morning quarterbacking, the police responded appropriate to a volatile and apparently dangerous situation.

As it is, it’s a terrible tragedy for a family whose mentally ill, drug abusing father was shot down in front of them.  That doesn’t mean, though, that it was the fault of the police that the situation ended as it did.

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  • D. Reid

    When a bipolar person stops taking his meds it is usually due to paranoid delusions that someone is trying poison or control him.
    When a bipolar person, off his meds, starts shooting at stranger’s voices, it is usually due to paranoid delusions that someone is trying harm him.
    This story seemed destined for a tragic ending. At some point in the future the man’s delusions and his weapons were going to collide with loved one’s telling him to take his meds or strangers ordering him to do something he disagreed with.

  • ymarsakar

    I think there’s a ROE set of escalation rules. The lawyers are not interested in justified ROE, except to prosecute people for when things go bad. This is true in the military as it is in the civilian sector.

    Training means just that. You are trained to react in a certain way, not trained to end up with a certain “result”.

    The Tazer is very effective for crazy people. But I doubt that doing good things is in the cards for Safire.

  • Al

    Not to further look from hindsight, but why was a man on bipolar medication allowed to own firearms? I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment, but there is obvious risk here.
    As far as the reporter goes, wrap him in kevlar, and put him on night-domestic violence patrol. Just put blanks in his gun.

  • Scott in SF

    Yeah, no way the police should be blamed when a crazy person has guns in their home.
    If you have a person in your house who is crazy, prone to sudden acts of revenge, suicidal, retarded, or any number of unpredictable or delusional behavior–and you own guns– you had better have them so well locked up they will stay locked up. If guns get into the hands of such people, the people who let that happen must take a large portion of the responsibility.
    –He didn’t take his meds– is as lame as ‘I didn’t know it was loaded.’