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Federal Jury Awards $561,582 to Survivors of California Man Killed by Police

On September 20, 2012, a California federal jury awarded a total of $411,582 to the family of a man fatally shot by Santa Rosa, California police.

Richard DeSantis lived with his wife and two minor children in Santa Rosa, California. While being treated for an injury to his leg, doctors diagnosed DeSantis as suffering from bipolar disorder. The night before he was due to return to work, DeSantis told his wife, Patricia, that he thought he heard noises or voices in the attic. He then discharged a firearm into the ceiling.

Patricia took the weapon from DeSantis, secured it, then called 911 requesting medical assistance for her husband. Instead of EMTs, multiple police officers arrived at the DeSantis residence ready for combat. The police drew their weapons and ordered DeSantis out of the house.

DeSantis and Patricia, holding their two-year-old daughter, came out of the house in clear sight of the police officers who were positioned about 80 feet away. Patricia told the officers that the gun was secured in the house and that this was a mental health issue. She physically demonstrated that DeSantis was unarmed.

The police order DeSantis to approach them. He did. They then told him to get down on the ground. He did. But DeSantis did not stay on the ground. He stood up and began to approach the police.

That's when Sgt. Jerry Soares opened fire with a less-lethal projectile, breaking DeSantis's arm. Immediately thereafter, Sgt. Rich Celli and Officers Travis Menke and Patricia Mann opened fire with lethal firearms, including a rifle. DeSantis was hit twice in his upper torso, killing him.

Patricia, DeSantis' estate and the children filed a federal civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. The suit alleged the use of unreasonable and excessive force and failure to provide medical care to DeSantis after he was shot resulted in his death.

A federal jury found that Celli "acted with a purpose to cause Richard DeSantis' death unrelated to the legitimate law enforcement purposes of self-defense or defense of others." It then awarded $343,250 in economic damages to Patricia DeSantis individually and as guardian of Dani DeSantis, $5,375 in non-economic damages to Patricia DeSantis, $127,000 in non-economic damages to Dani DeSantis and $35,957 in non-economic damages to Andrienne DeSantis for a total award of $561,582.

The plaintiffs were represented by San Francisco attorneys John Houston Scott, Lizabeth N. de Vires and Eric Safire. They requested attorney's fees and costs, and the case subsequently settled in June 2013 for a total of $1,050,000, which included $735,000 in attorney's fees. See: DeSantis v. City of Santa Rosa, U.S.D.C.(N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:07-cv-03386-JSW.

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Related legal case

DeSantis v. City of Santa Rosa