News

Palo Alto police describe 'quick and violent' confrontation before fatal shooting

Police department names officers involved in fatal shooting of William David Raff

When three Palo Alto police officers arrived at the front lawn of a home at 652 Forest Ave. in the waning hours of Christmas night, they reportedly saw a man emerge from the shadows, brandishing a metal knife and jumping around in an erratic manner.

Nineteen seconds later, 31-year-old William David Raff was shot and killed by police and the city had its first officer-involved shooting since 2002.

Exactly what happened during those 19 seconds remains the subject of a police investigation. But according to new information issued by the Palo Alto Police Department on Tuesday, the shooting occurred only after the officers repeatedly ordered Raff to drop the knife, retreated from the lawn to the street and requested backup.

According to police, officers Nicholas Enberg and Zachary Wicht reportedly fired their guns at Raff after he allegedly "sprinted directly at the officers while screaming and waving the knife." Another officer, who is not being named, reportedly fired a Taser at Raff at the same time.

Raff allegedly got close enough to the two officers that Enberg had to move to avoid being struck by him as he fell under gunfire.

The new information was made available to the police through reviews of video and audio footage from two police cruisers, each of which reportedly captured the incident in its entirety from multiple angles. Police said they are not releasing video and audio footage at this time.

Enberg, who has been with the police department for two and a half years, and Wicht, who has been a Palo Alto police officer for a year and a half, are now on paid administrative leave, a standard practice with officer-involved shooting investigations.

The officers responded to the Forest Avenue group home (operated by La Selva for residents who require psychiatric care) for a "false emergency" call in which Raff reported that a person at the residence is "really violent" and provided the name of that person. Police said there was no one by that name in the residence.

The call was made at about 9:16 p.m. Seven minutes later, the officers showed up at the nondescript Tudor home near the intersection of Forest and Middlefield Road.

As soon as the officers arrived, they saw Raff "jumping around erratically" with a knife in his hand, according to a police department press release. Officers immediately called for backup while retreating from the property and gave the suspect "multiple commands" to drop the knife, according to the press release. As the officers retreated toward the street, one officer requested an emergency response from a police unit that is equipped with a weapon that can shoot rubber bullets.

But the situation appeared to have escalated before any help could arrive. Even as the officers were retreating toward their vehicles, Raff moved to the middle of the street and continued to jump around while waving the knife, which police said had a slightly serrated edge and a tapered, slightly-rounded tip. Police said this was the kind of a "table knife" that is typically used as a dining utensil -- a solid piece of metal about nine inches in length.

Raff allegedly ignored the officers' repeated commands to drop the knife, and then charged at the officers while screaming and waving the knife.

One officer then fired a Taser, police said, while Enberg and Wicht fired their pistols.

Though it's not yet clear how many rounds were fired, the police department's evidence team later recovered nine bullet casings at the scene, police said. Officers reportedly provided first aid to Raff before paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital, where he later died.

In addition to reviewing video and audio footage, police said they interviewed three different witnesses who were walking in the neighborhood during the incident and saw what happened.

Police believe the interviews, along with all of the audio and video evidence captured from the police vehicles, has given the department "all of the significant details" about the 19-second encounter. Police don't plan to release any additional information about what the press release calls a "quick and violent confrontation."

According to the release, Raff had just moved into the group home within a week of the incident. His father, Garold Raff, told the Weekly that William has been suffering from schizoaffective disorder, a condition whose symptoms can include hallucinations, depression and mania.

Once the Palo Alto Police Department completes its criminal investigation, it plans to hand over all the evidence to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for review, according to the news release. The department also plans to submit the evidence to the city's Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco, who will be asked to review both the officers' conduct and the police department's response. Gennaco's review would take place after the department concludes its own administrative investigation, according to the press release.

Related content:

Shooting was 'unjust,' say parents of man killed by police

Fatal shooting brings questions about police tactics to Palo Alto

Comments

73 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Sadly, this incident at La Selva House should surprise nobody. I lived across Forest Ave from them for 5 years, and during that time I witnessed a steady stream of violent and disturbing incidents. The worst case involved an inmate who immolated himself with a huge gas fire from their backyard barbecue. I could see great flames burning the neighboring fence. We had police tape and squad cars around the neighborhood for days. More commonly, we had numerous incidents involving inmates screaming on the front steps at all hour of the night, followed by police interviews around the neighborhood. We had ambulances routinely pulling up in front of La Selva to collect their inmates / patients. I seriously question the appropriateness of housing such a concentration of potentially violent people in a residential neighborhood. And I am quite sure that the management of La Selva is not competent to be operating such a facility. I moved away from Forest Ave in large part because I felt unsafe living there.


56 people like this
Posted by A Shame
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Seems if there is a lawsuit, it should be directed to La Selva, not PAPD.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm

[Post removed.]


24 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:35 pm

@Resident - it isn't possible to discern the sharpness of a moving knife at night (or day).


4 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Mr.Recycle is correct. This happened at 9:30pm outside.


36 people like this
Posted by Armchair Quarterback
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Sounds like Raff made a call for suicide by cop and was granted his wish.


71 people like this
Posted by What's it Doing Here?
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2015 at 8:40 pm

La Selva should NOT be located in a suburban residential neighborhood. It should be in a business district where there are no kids, no playgrounds. Had this happened just a few hours earlier, an innocent bystander or child could have been killed by Raff or by a stray police bullet.

La Selva puts residents of the neighborhood it is in at risk. Just ask neighbors of this place. Mental patients and drug rehab patients do not belong, and are forbidden by law, to be in residential neighborhoods.

There was a big brouhaha in Union City concerning a drug rehab, a mental health facility, and an alcohol abuse treatment center all in residential neighborhoods, all near a school and a park. When the Union City City Hall discovered this, and when the neighborhood homeowner's association found out, all three were evicted from the rental homes they were in POST-HASTE!


67 people like this
Posted by cheese guy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:09 pm

What happened was tragic and deeply unfortunate. However, a touch of sensitivity about the mentally ill members of our community,-- yes the sons, daughters, and siblings of thousands of local residents would be nice. Paul, these are NOT "inmates" who are committed to a prison and such a reference is appalling. Major depression will hit about 1 in 5 Americans at some point in their life and more severe forms of illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia probably add up to more than 5% of the population. That's a couple people in very block of this city. Mr "What's it doing here" must be thinking more of Nazi Germany than this country with the comment that it's "forbidden by law" to have the mentally in in our neighborhood. Mental illness is everywhere and approaching it with compassion and integration is the only way to help these individuals. The research literature demonstrates that the mentally ill in this society pose at most a minimal greater risk of violence to others than people without serious mental illness. In fact, the major factor in making mentally ill people more dangerous is likely concurrent alcohol and drug use, which just happens to be a major factor in making the NOT mentally ill members of our public a danger to others.


31 people like this
Posted by Jan
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm

This home is very close to an elementary school.


48 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm

thank you cheese guy for expressing the correct concerns.

When palo alto seems so concerned with troubled youths in high schools, why does Palo Alto want to turn their backs on those who somehow passed the 18year old age where parents could assist?

La selva serves young adults, so many college kids- Posters please be kind, show some compassion. This is the place where our high schools kids may turn to someday.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:44 pm

Looking forward to Monday's City Council meeting, January 4.
Call to Order 6:00pm. Election of Mayor and Vice Mayor for 2016.
Resolution of Appreciation for Outstanding Public Service to outgoing Mayor.

... and then the evening is free for Oral Communications from the public.

I'll expect more than the usual participants.


15 people like this
Posted by Anoni
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 10:21 pm

AQ said:

"Sounds like Raff made a call for suicide by cop and was granted his wish."

I hope the cops involved in this incident were not entertaining the same legally confused and callus thought, when they responded to Mr. Raff's call... and I hope you are not a cop.


27 people like this
Posted by Member of local community
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:31 am

I suggest everyone looks outside of the U.S. and observes how other countries deal with these situations. Rarely are people killed (and yes, they frequently are holding more than a butter knife!)

It's embarrassing to live in a country with such an acceptance of guns, police killing and mass shootings. I'm sad to see that Palo Alto has now crept into the statistics.


50 people like this
Posted by James Hewitt
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2015 at 2:15 am

As a former long time Palo Alto Resident, and one who many years ago had the privilege of knowing many Palo Alto Police Officers (and, and one time counted a handful of them among my best friends) I can say from personal experience that Palo Alto has to have one of the finest, best educated, intelligent, and compassionate Police Departments of any city in the world. These men and women, who all Palo Alto residents should be proud to have protecting them on a 24/7 basis some of the most caring and capable individuals anywhere. You are all very fortunate. The Department has my full appreciation and support in any situation unless proven otherwise. Thank you, men and women of Palo Alto PD.


16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:14 am

The police in this country have been militarized since 9/11 and act more like military combat units than public servants. This, among other factors, explains the wave of police kilings and police brutality that has swept the nation. The public is now the enemy to some cops, and the enemy must be killed, as all combat soldiers are trained to think. The PA cops may or may have not had a choice in the Forest Ave incident, not knowing the circumstances in detail I can't pass a judgment yet, but what is happening in the US at large is that police are behaving more and more like police behave in police states. This to me is the real tragedy and it is very scary.


11 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:52 am

Why did the officers need to request "an emergency response from a police unit that is equipped with a weapon that can shoot rubber bullets"? Why were they not already equipped with such a weapon?


15 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 10:10 am

20 seconds is no time to make a calm rational decision.
Don't police have nightsticks, or equivalent? Was 31-year-old
William David Raff a really large threatening looking person?.

I don't fault the police, and it appears they followed the strict rules of
engagement, but this was not a good job or outcome by any means.

Two fully trained men could not take down one crazy guy without
lethal force?

I hope the video gets released and a good discussion of what happened
can be had so that police and people can learn to adjust their expectations
in these kinds of situations. Palo Alto did it right that this was videoed
and documented well.

Who was in charge of monitoring the residents of La Selva at that time?
Good reporting, Palo Alto Online. thanks for getting this information out.
Let's hope something can be learned from this.


4 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 10:22 am

Mauricio:
>> The police in this country have been militarized since 9/11 and act more like
>> military combat units than public servants. This, among other factors, explains
>> the wave of police kilings and police brutality that has swept the nation.

Well, since San Bernardino police have to be ready for anything. I don't think that
is what happened here. This sounds more like a lack of confidence and being fearful
of not being able to control the situation and resorting to lethal force, which tragic
as it may be is fair game. There is going to be suspicion and criticism about anything
police do, but I cannot help but wonder if two officers couldn't have closed on this
guy, smacked him down with a nightstick and TASER, cuffed him and carry him away.

BUT, Police should not have to risk their lives or safety to gamble on subduing someone
who should not be doing what they are doing anyway. That said though there are
police and military trained people who could handle this. That does not mean that
average officer should be held to that standard though and expected to gret injured
or die in the line of duty, that reasoning is absurd.

Protecting themselves first is what the officer should be doing, and no one should
blame them for it.

I wonder since the police became "militarized" though, as you call it, if there are
significantly less injuries to the police or officers killed in the line of duty? Whatever
is happening the public needs to understand it, understand the reason and need for
it, and if things can be improved work towards that. This was not a good moment
for the police even though they did their job, maybe the best they could?


28 people like this
Posted by If City Manager doesnt prevent
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

Musical writes I'll expect more than the usual participants.(at City Council)

That is, if the City Manager doesn't take over the evening as he sometimes does, with lavish praise for himself and staff.
At the last election inauguration he took over almost an HOUR with slides and long descriptions of his great work. The audience was patient but restless and bored. People were checking their mail, etc. I was there.
Yes, almost an hour before the inauguration could take place.


34 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 12:02 pm

I response to 'cheese guy': Your compassion is admirable, but as usual such fine sentiments are a luxury. I lived across the street from that place, and I can tell you quite definitely, it's a menace to the community. It looms there near the end of the block, and nothing good ever seems to come of it, just trouble, trouble, and more trouble. Residents have a right to live in peace and not to be incessantly worried by police and ambulances showing up across the street to deal with a population of disturbed people who frequently exhibit violent behavior. I cleared out because of that place. I would certainly advise anyone looking for housing in Palo Alto to think twice or more times before taking up residence nearby. Especially if they have children. I forgot to mention the several times I observed one of the La Selva residents trying to get the attention of my 6 year old daughter. It was really, really scary.


8 people like this
Posted by Chance
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Maybe La Selva needs better management but the mentally ill are in our communities regardless. It's time we put in place the infrastructure to help them instead of calling them "crazy" and walking away. The "suicide by cop" comment is particularly disheartening. Mr. Raff was in trouble and trying to get help. Likelt his broken mind did not realize that the police aren't there to help people like him. When someone isn't experiencing reality correctly they most likely are not going to "follow commands". Are we civilize or are we no worse than Neanderthals ? This shoot in 20 seconds mindset belies reason. Show the tape. I won't believe police until I see with my own eyes how threatening this ill young man appeared.


8 people like this
Posted by Chance
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Maybe La Selva needs better management but the mentally ill are in our communities regardless. It's time we put in place the infrastructure to help them instead of calling them "crazy" and walking away. The "suicide by cop" comment is particularly disheartening. Mr. Raff was in trouble and trying to get help. Likelt his broken mind did not realize that the police aren't there to help people like him. When someone isn't experiencing reality correctly they most likely are not going to "follow commands". Are we civilize or are we no worse than Neanderthals ? This shoot in 20 seconds mindset belies reason. Show the tape. I won't believe police until I see with my own eyes how threatening this ill young man appeared.


25 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I lived in Palo Alto for over 50 years, and the police have a reputation as being non confrontational police officers. We have to wait until all the evidence comes in, but I have to believe the police had no choice but the protect themselves.


38 people like this
Posted by Ken
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I am sick and tired of hearing the Monday morning quarterbacks who judge the officers. Until you have walked in their shoes and experience what they experience each and everyday you have no business passing judgement. They have a very difficult job which has become more difficult because of the media and Monday morning post judgements. 19 seconds is all they had to make a judgement 19 seconds. Telling the person to halt, drop the knife, retreating and using a taser and the man kept coming what were they supposed to do?? Those who suggest wrestling the man to the ground have never dealt with a mentally ill person or a person on drugs, it's insanity to suggest that was an option for the officers.

These officers now have to live with a situation which occurred in 19 seconds for the rest of their lives, and I know the last thing they wanted was to take a life. To suggest that they come to work to harm people is delusional, which had been suggested in other post. This individual no matter how disturbed gave them no choice. There actions prove that they tried every other option.

So for those who want to judge the police, I suggest you shut up and apply to become a police officer, put on a badge and experience all the crap they have to deal with day in and day out. Until you have walked in their shoes, you have no business to judge them.

I for one am thankful we have such a great police department and officers protecting our community. We should be thanking these public servants and quit judging them.

We should be thanking the police, firefighter and paramedic each and everyday. Because where would we be without these outstanding public servants. We should be thankful we have these individuals who choose to put on a badge and put their lives on the line so others may live in peace and security, so others may live.


24 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Why is it that police in the US kills more people in 24 DAYS than the UK police kills in 24 YEARS? See Web Link

Two obvious reasons come to mind:
1. More guns in the US
2. Police is trained to shot instead of the contain the violence. They shot first and asks questions later, mostly because there are the rules and because when they kill people they usually face no consequences.


9 people like this
Posted by Apples-and-Oranges
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm

> Why is it that police in the US kills more people in 24 DAYS
> than the UK police kills in 24 YEARS?

The link provided compares raw data between countries. For this sort of comparison to be valid, the data of interest must be normalized against some population base, such as 100,000 population. Unless the data is normalized--the comparison is not very useful.

That said, it is true that there are more police shootings here in the US than in most countries--although trying to get police/crime data from many countries is like pulling hen's teeth.

Might be interesting to try to dig a little more deeply into these engagements and come up with better reasons why criminals refuse to comply with police directives when told to--other than falling back on the "too many guns" assertion.


29 people like this
Posted by Just Asking
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Seems many of the posters here feel the police need more training on dealing with the mentally ill. With that I have a few questions.

1. If a person is confined to an in-patient psychiatric facility (La Selva House) that is staffed with mental health experts 24-hours per day, how is it these “experts” allowed an individual to roam the facility without supervision? If it is true this individual tried to commit suicide only a few weeks ago it seems rather strange a person can freely roam the facility, obtain a knife (whether a butter knife, butcher knife, or even a pocket knife), call 911 and report a false emergency, and then walk out of the facility to await the arrival of responding officers without any supervision. Seems this facility plays a big role in this situation but they have been quiet. I seem to recall an incident at the La Selva house about 10 years ago when a mentally ill person lit himself on fire in a shed on the property. Am I the only one to remember this?

2. If Mr. Raff is so quick to blame the police, and even speak of potential litigation, it is only fair he answer the hard questions. What type of father were you? I know of a few families with mentally ill young adults and one parent quit working to take care of the sick individual. Seems you are quick to blame everyone else except yourself for failure. You knew your son tried to commit suicide only weeks before but now you blame the police? Were you paying for his medical care or were the taxpayers?

3. For Aram James to report the police should have retreated behind their patrol cars. I wasn’t there, and I do not know police tactics, but I wonder if the police ran away as fast as they could to regroup and come up with a better plan, and Raff re-entered the psychiatric facility and started stabbing either staff or other residents in getting the police to respond back to the house for “suicide by cop” I’m pretty sure Mr. James would now criticize the police for retreating and not going on the offensive. The police just can’t catch a break these days. And finally,

4. I hope an active shooter does not come to Palo Alto, but as the world becomes more violent who knows. I know I want my police well armed to kill the terrorists as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t want them to respond and try to talk with the terrorists to understand why they are so angry and what can the police do to help them out and perhaps drop their automatic weapons and disable their suicide vests.


7 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2015 at 5:38 pm

The police is not trained to fight terrorists. When the police in this country, and I'm excluding the PAPD, which is head over shoulder more sensitive to civilians and more respectful of their rights, keep killing so many unarmed citizens, they are not our protectors anymore, just another armed group we must watch out for. This killing of civilians by police will continue as long aster are no consequences.

[Portion removed.] I believe that we need to revisit the issue of handing every police officers a gun. Perhaps highly trained, selective rapid response units should be armed, while other cops are provided with batons, tasers, pepper spray, etc.


15 people like this
Posted by the truth!
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 6:41 pm

The truth is that I have had no contact with police in the last six years because I have changed my life and follow the laws!

Sad that that man got killed but he chose to charge officers with a knife and put the officers at risk.

Their are bad policeman, lawyers, doctors etc... in the world. The fact is if I follow the laws and be respectful to police when in contact with them their will be no problems. All these Black Lives Matters situations:all the "victims" were in the process of breaking the law etc....people no longer want to see their roles in the situations they find themselves in which is ruining this country.

How about when those policeman served a warrant in Santa Cruz two years ago and got their heads blown off from behind a door. I don't judge policemen because I have never been one and been under that kind of pressure day in and day out, especially dealing with what they do.

I do though have the experience of dealing with police in the past because i was breaking the law. Since I don't break the law anymore I just never ever have to deal with the police, which is a fact!!!

What was that guy doing walking outside with a knife? Where was the supervision? I wish the dad would just say my son made a bad decision and sometimes consequences in life are irreversible. I'm not in the dad's situation so is what it is.

Life is all about the decisions we, I make. Majority, most of police, don't get up in the morning and say, "can't wait to go kill someone.


28 people like this
Posted by Graduate
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 6:43 pm

That little gingerbread house on Forest has repaired more lives than most Palo Alto residents will ever know. I know, because I am one of them. What is the value of even one human life? Priceless. The people who work there know that better than most. Id like people to respect the privacy of those living and working at La Selva as they heal from this tragedy.


13 people like this
Posted by Chance
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:20 pm

The police have taken a life. They may protect and serve some but others seem to need protection from them. The mentally ill should be treated with compassion. Mr. Raff was having a crisis and called for help. Why was he shot within 20 seconds? We can and should be able to do better than this as an educated and civilized community. It is not ok to condemn those who suffer from mental illness and are struggling to survive. It is not ok to demonize them.


16 people like this
Posted by hmmm
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm

A very informative and relevant video concerning reaction times for officers approaching a potentially knife wielding suspect.
Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by Ken
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 9:31 pm


I suggest everyone watch this posting video. A police protester in Arizona was invited to participate in police training. It change his opinion of the police.

So for all of you in this community who have posted negative, judge mental and down right hateful comments about the Palo Alto Police and their motives. I urge you try watching this with an open mind, if that's possible.

I feel very sorry for the victim and the victims families and the loss of his life is tragic. All of my prayers go out to the family. I have a son who suffers from traumatic brain injury so I understand how hard it is to have family member suffering from mental illness.

I am thankful for the Palo Alto Police and for Chief Burns who leads this organization he is a outstanding chief and a very good man. I feel terrible for the officers who were involved, they have to live with this the rest of there lives and their lives will never be the same.

I hope this post won't be taken down, like my last.
Please watch this video so you can understand what these officers have to deal with, walk in their shoes for just a minute, please!

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by John B.
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 30, 2015 at 11:48 pm

"Two fully trained men could not take down one crazy guy without
lethal force?"

Of course they could have. In fact, any one of us out here could have done it effortlessly, if we could spare time from our blogging.


15 people like this
Posted by Elder
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 31, 2015 at 11:20 am

I've lived across from this residence for 15 years and never experienced any disruptions or issues. I meet several of the residents walking in the neighborhood and we greet each other. This type of community residence is what we need for the mentally ill. When we closed the hospitals, we promised residential facilities and failed to keep that promise. It saddens me that we do not have the training to diffuse this type of situation with out violent death. I grieve for the young man and for the police who felt they had no options but to take a life.


11 people like this
Posted by Physician and Mom of special needs children
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2015 at 11:57 am

The problem is the militarization of our police force. We have been in continuous war since 2001, and now the troops once stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan are now back home. This is not like WWII. We have a large active military industrial complex which has now been brought back here to the US. We all understand the need to employ the thousands of well-qualified military personnel after they return to us, but what we now have are soldiers in these positions. So every confrontation will appear to very well-trained soldiers to be a potential casualty situation, and they will respond to a schizophrenic man with a butter knife the same that they would to a terrorist with a grenade.

It takes retraining. There is a big difference between knowing when they CAN use lethal force and when they SHOULD use lethal force.


13 people like this
Posted by A Shame
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 31, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Wow, the video posted by Ken is excellent! Even the reverend (who formerly spoke against police force) "shot" the unarmed man when he was approached. The reverend said the assailant was not following his orders so he "killed" him.

Here is the video that Ken posted. All you who question police use of force should watch it (4 minutes): Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Ken says:
>> I am sick and tired of hearing the Monday morning quarterbacks who judge the officers.

When you come and read about it in the Palo Alto Online Town Square Forum that is what you are going to get. People want to know that the actions of police use of deadly force is being audited and what else would people be talking about Ken? Shouldn't people be free to say what they want? It is frustrating to hear comments from people who might not have a clue, but ot everyone has to be perfect or agree with any certain point of view. It is not everyone the police shoot someone to death after only 20 seconds. I think people want to know that there was not just expediency or a lack of training

>> Until you have walked in their shoes and experience what they experience each and everyday you have no business passing judgement.

Most people I have read are asking questions and speculating because as usually there are some facts people don't know. Even the people in total support of the police are speculating on what happened.

>> They have a very difficult job which has become more difficult because of the media and Monday morning post judgements. 19 seconds is all they had to make a judgement 19 seconds.

I have a feeling you don't like any criticism or questioning of police at all and that is not a reasonable attitude these days, just like "my country right or wrong. There should be an uncompromising public right to be sure about the use of deadly force by the police.

>> Telling the person to halt, drop the knife, retreating and using a taser and the man kept coming what were they supposed to do??

That is exactly the question. Two trained police officers with TASERs, nightsticks, and pistols should have the training and means to subdue someone so what precipitated the use of gunfire? There may very well be good reasons it was impossible in this case to do anything else, but what is wrong with talking about it and asking why? I think
it is great that PAO exists and allows us to have this discussion, so thanks PAO.

>> Those who suggest wrestling the man to the ground have never dealt with a mentally ill person or a person on drugs, it's insanity to suggest that was an option for the officers.

Aren't you drawing conclusions as well. What you seem to be saying is that you believe the police always do the right thing and should not be questioned, even if it is to find better ways of handling this kind of occurrence.

>> These officers now have to live with a situation which occurred in 19 seconds for the rest of their lives, and I know the last thing they wanted was to take a life.

I've suggested this as well, and it is not s job I would want to do. My brother in law is a Park Service ranger and resents that his job sometimes calls for policing and the use of force, and really resents the situations where he is put in a circumstance of possible having to shoot someone. For those who do undertake policing I want the best training and strict review on the use of deadly force. The police may have made errors or not had the training to save this person's life. If that is so, I think it is important the public realize that as well and know that they are always trying to do better, or should be.

>> To suggest that they come to work to harm people is delusional,

Have you been paying attention to the news in the last year? There certainly seem to be some, and how they get to be police is important to understand.

>> This individual no matter how disturbed gave them no choice.

That is exactly the point, it is not so black and white. We don't know that, and we do not know that there are some officers who could have created a different outcome. I think I hear you trying to say that people don't think about the reality of this job, and on that I would agree with you. But that is what conversations like this should
be about. The public often has unrealistic expectations about police officers, who I would also agree have a tough job and do it well most of the time. Those who make suggestions like shooting someone in the left or shooting the weapon out of their hand are unrealistic of course, but there are varying degrees of that. But why shouldn't
people discuss and express their opinions in just this manner to gain a more thorough view.

>> So for those who want to judge the police, I suggest you shut up and apply to become a police officer, put on a badge and experience all the crap they have to deal with day in and day out.

Doesn't not judging go both ways?

>> Until you have walked in their shoes, you have no business to judge them. I for one am thankful we have such a great police department and officers protecting our community. We should be thanking these public servants and quit judging them.

I'd say people are questioning what happened, not judging, and I do think people have the right to question, even if they don't have the context of sensitivity it takes to ask the right questions of make the right comments. There is a crisis in this country about police use of force

>> We should be thanking the police, firefighter and paramedic each and everyday. Because where would we be without these outstanding public servants. We should be thankful we have these individuals who choose to put on a badge and put their lives on the line so others may live in peace and security, so others may live

A good police officer is going to understand the public's concern about their job and how it is done and how important it it to audit uses of deadly force. There are ways of being supportive of the police without overdoing it.

But on the bottom line I agree with you, the officer has to think about his life and safety first and cannot be blamed for that, but they can be offered new better tools or training.


5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 31, 2015 at 2:55 pm

@Ken:Only in a police state, civilians don't question police killings. If we don't ask questions, the police will not provide truthful answers. When you put the police and military on a pedestal, you get a police state and/or a military dictatorship. I wonder if you remember that the police are there to protect and serve the public. They work for US. WE pay their salaries. They are OUR employees. WE are their bosses, not the other way around. When they kill a member of the public, we must ask them very prodding questions to find out if there was no other reasonable alternative. If we don't question authority, we end up living in an authoritarian state.

2015 was the year in which 1,134 civilians were killed by police in the USA. 15 percent of them young black males between the ages of 15-34. I Believe that if we had asked prodding questions of the police, that number would have been significantly lower.


7 people like this
Posted by Refugio
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 31, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Ok so many of the comments here show a real lack of understanding about how the mentally ill are treated in this country. First, from "What's it doing here, your concept of segregating the mentally ill in an industrial area away from kids and schools was what we had in California from the late 1880's until the early 1970's. Mental hospitals were rife with abuse including involuntary lobotomies in the 1950's. This was before psychoactive drugs were developed that allowed many people with mental health issues such as bi-polar disorder, depression and schizophrenia to live in a mainstream setting. Helping such people cope with their disorders is an important quality of life issue for us all.

Mental illness is still feared by many who want to isolate the mentally ill from society but in fact we see the results of poor mental health care everyday. Many of the homeless on our streets are self medicating their mental illnesses with drugs or alcohol because they cannot or will not avail themselves of quality mental health care.

The tragic case in Palo Alto presented a very difficult situation for the police who had to make an instant decision. Unfortunately this has provided an opportunity for the uninformed to indict the police as uncaring killers. That is a total rush to judgement and most fair minded readers will wait to see what the tapes show. Similarly, indicting La Selva because this incident happened may be justified but only when the facts are known. What they do is very difficult and necessary and unfortunate incidents such as this does not mean that they aren't providing a valuable service to the community.


5 people like this
Posted by Please Remember
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2015 at 8:45 pm

How quick it is that everyone forgets Officer Michael Johnson with the San Jose Police Department who was killed in the line of duty just earlier this year. Let me remind everyone, 
"San Jose officers were initially called at 6:48 p.m. Tuesday by a female family member who said that Dunham was intoxicated, despondent and possibly meant to harm himself or others, Esquivel said. As the officers approached the apartment building on Senter Road and spotted a person on a balcony, they were fired upon without warning." 
Officer Michael Johnson was shot by the suspect from a balcony, his fellow officers had to watch him fall to the floor, then spend several hours working to protect the surrounding public from having the same happen to the citizens while their fallen officer laid there. 
I agree the public is allowed the right to question how a situation evolved and how a person ends up shot dead. I agree the public has the right to have a discussion and give view points on how they think a situation could of been handled. I would hope however, that the public would stop attacking the police and stand behind them in their decisions until the facts show otherwise. The Palo Alto Police Department has been beyond forthcoming with the public in providing details in what transpired in this incident. Clearly, as they stated, there is an on going investigation that is being conducted along with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and the department also plans to submit the evidence to the city's Independent Police Auditor Michael Gennaco. Let the investigation happen. 
Remember officers are people too and the last thing they wanted to do on their Christmas night was to shoot and kill somebody. Don't let incidents by other officers in the United States, who have made horrible decisions, cloud your view of the thousands upon thousands of officers who sacrifice their lives everyday for the public. Go ahead and hate the police, but remember next time you need help, next time someone is attacking you, invading your home or hurting a loved one of yours, remember who you are going to call. These Officers, despite your hatred, will still respond and will do everything they can to protect your life, putting their lives on the line. They will risk going home alive to their families so that you or your loved ones can be safe and out of harms way. People can die from simply being hit in the head at the wrong angle and die so stop saying a man, unless carrying a gun, is not a risk to the officers or the public. 
Watch this dash cam video which happened just this December where an Indian River County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Lester who in a sixteen second time span gave over five calm commands and was punched in the face and shot. Nineteen seconds might sound like a short amount of time to give commands, back away and be charged at by a subject wielding an unknown type of knife in the dark, then tazed and shot, but clearly a lot can happen in that amount of time, especially a violent, irate, mentally ill subject who is purposely trying and will do anything needed to provoke an officer to shoot and kill. 
Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Foreign perspective
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 1, 2016 at 12:49 am

Without assigning in the guilt to the people involved in the tragic accident, I see with great surprise how even fellow Palo Altans find it acceptable that three of our Police officers cannot contain a disturbed man with a knife other than with DEADLY force.
This would be unacceptable in most european countries. It indicates the lack of training of the highly paid Police force in this country. Shooting at vital organs appears to be the "best choice" for american police officers, while shooting at legs or other non lethal tactics is typically as effective and rarely leads to deaths.
We got what we find acceptable. More than 1000 people killed by police officers in this 2015.
Happy New Year.


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 1, 2016 at 8:28 am

Yes, shooting at the legs of running/charging armed assailant while you yourself are moving backwards is so easy to do, especially at night. Perhaps you could demonstrate for us.

Watch the video posted above.


6 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 1, 2016 at 9:21 am

Not funny CPD. The point made by "foreign perspective" had validity
which should have been discussed instead of ridiculed by the inclusion
of leg-shooting, which I happen to agree with you on.

It is impractical, when in a deadly force confrontation to try to aim precisely.
Anyone who fires guns knows aim is inversely related to stress and having
one's life being threatened is about the greatest stress there is.

I think the valid part of foreign perspective's post was that when we train
officers we are doing something wrong compared to other countries when
we have so many deadly force interactions ... or just let's say we could be
doing better .. and certainly a whole lot better when we look at some of
these circumstances. That is a reasonable place to start and not to be
ridiculed in my opinion.

The officer at these points has every right to use deadly force even if it is a
tragic misunderstanding, because they don't know, and must be trained to
think ahead as to what might happen to put their lives in danger. The video
link posted by Ken I think, really did portray that well, if dramatically.

And if we are recalling events of this nature, let's remember the two officers
in Santa Cruz who were gunned down in someone's home they were
interviewing out of the blue when they had not reason to suspect they were
even in danger.

There is something to learn for the police force and the pubic, and possibly
improvements as well, so let's not get all reactive about who is saying what
or criticizing who. Lots of comments are not going to come out well but
they are driven by people's genuine concerns and feelings.


3 people like this
Posted by Apples-and-Oranges
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2016 at 11:08 am

> 2015 was the year in which 1,134 civilians were killed by
> police in the USA. 15 percent of them young black males
> between the ages of 15-34.

The Washington Post has done a very credible job of compiling the number of deaths resulting from officer-involved-shootings--

Web Link

980 people shot dead by police this year

726 of the fatal shootings followed a wide range of violent crimes, including shootouts, stabbings, hostage situations, carjackings and assaults


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 1, 2016 at 11:40 am

Wasn't trying to be funny at all. I don't think anyone is opposed to less lethal means to suppressing attackers - when possible, when available, when trained, when not under attack the moment you get out of your car...

If the account of the event is accurate, and the video and eye witnesses back up the statements, then it's absurd to expect an officer to "shoot for his legs" when facing a charging attacker with less than 10 feet between them. And it's also absurd that some people on this board expect our officers to risk their own lives by physically engaging in hand-to-hand combat with an assailant.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 2, 2016 at 4:19 pm

The follow-on Palo Alto Police Report says this was a dinning utensil table knife. While I realize this was a very stressful and potentially dangerous situation for the officers involved, I worry about the possibility excessive force might have been used, although without seeing knife and having been there, its hard to tell. Regardless, I'd like to see more Palo Alto Police training in use of non-lethal force for aggressors as a result of this incident.

The idea of shooting for the legs is not practical. Here's a couple of things to ponder, legs and arms move very quickly, police more often miss then hit even when shooting at center of mass, it typically takes multiple shots to incapacitate someone and there is a major artery in your upper leg, which if hit will cause you to bleed out very quickly. If you want to understand more read this: Web Link

While some of the bullets hit their targets, I believe some went flying off into the neighborhood creating a very lethal risk for innocent nearby residents. It's very important to minimize PA Police shooting of guns in Palo Alto which is very densely populated.

The video included earlier by another forum participant is helpful but a gun is the wrong tool to take down an unarmed suspect. That is why Palo Alto Police carry tasers, pepper spray and batons. I'd like to see more training in non-lethal submission tactics for non-compliant suspects in response to this shooting, since I'm sure down the line it could increase the chance of less lethal force being needed in some situations.


Like this comment
Posted by Unknown things.
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm

How did the police officer know the knife wielded was not on meth or in some other condition that would result in unpredictable behavior?


4 people like this
Posted by Physician and mom of special needs kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2016 at 4:37 pm

[Portion removed.]

Interesting article from The Atlantic Monthly on when police justify taking the lives of those they were sworn to protect. I am still figuring out how to include it here via web link.

And yes, I have diffused many situations with mentally ill patients suffering from acute psychotic breaks WITH weapons in much more difficult situations than this recent one. I am a small 5'2" petite female, and no way could I have physically overpowered many of the patients I helped de-escalate.

I have also faced inner city gang members with glock pistols in their waistband, and had peaceful ends. This was in medical school, residency, and in inner city clinics.

It is the way in which we CHOOSE to approach situations.

And yes, I have been threatened with many more dangerous things than a butter knife and would never have thought I needed to use lethal force EVEN IF it was available to me.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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