Claim against Palo Alto filed in police shooting

Mother of William Raff accuses police of civil-rights violations

Minutes before two Palo Alto officers fatally shot a mentally ill man on Dec. 25, 2015, an employee at the mental health facility where he lived allegedly rushed out and warned police that the man, William David Raff, was armed with a butter knife and he begged them not to shoot, according to an attorney who has filed a claim on behalf of Raff's mother.

Oakland-based civil-rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin filed the claim for unspecified monetary damages on behalf of Raff's mother, Tina Cremer, on Monday afternoon, lead attorney Michael Haddad told the Weekly on Tuesday.

The claim alleges wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, intentional torts and civil rights violations. They ask for damages related to loss of support both economic and non-economic, medical, funeral and burial expenses and other causes.

Raff, 31, who had schizophrenia, was living at a residential outpatient mental health facility on the 600 block of Forest Avenue, run by the nonprofit Momentum for Mental Health. He allegedly called police dispatch on Christmas night to report a disturbance.

Police officers have said that Raff jumped out at them from the dark and waved a knife while shrieking unintelligibly. Raff allegedly charged at the officers and two officers, later identified as Nicholas Enberg and Zachary Wicht, fired their pistols at him. Raff was taken to a nearby hospital, but he died.

The claim alleges that police knew the Forest Avenue address was a group home for mentally ill persons and also that they were likely to encounter someone with a mental illness. The officers are trained in de-escalation, use of communication techniques in crisis situations and modes for keeping themselves tactically safe in order to give the disturbed person time to calm down, but they failed to use or adequately employ that training, according to the claim.

A dispatcher had allegedly called the home after Raff made his 911 call and spoke with a group home staff member. That person assured the police that everything was safe within the home. The staff member allegedly told the dispatcher that Raff was having mental health problems and staff were addressing his issues, according to the claim. But officers who went to the home and displayed weapons allegedly acted in a threatening manner, which inflamed the situation rather than de-escalated it, according to the claim.

"A large staff member came out of the house and told police 'I'm staff. Don't shoot. It's only a butter knife,'" Haddad said. But police ignored the staff member, he said.

Haddad also disputed police claims that Raff was so close to the officers that they were at risk of being stabbed.

"He was 30 to 40 feet away. Even if it was closer, it doesn't matter because it was a harmless butter knife," he said.

The claim also accuses, but does not specify, the police department of unreasonably causing a delay of emergency treatment to Raff that might have saved his life.

Palo Alto City Attorney Molly Stump said in an email: "We generally don't comment on active claims/litigation, except to say that we will process the claim according to our regular procedures."

But police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said after the shooting that video recordings taken by police cruisers show the incident from beginning to end. Raff was so close when he was shot that one of the officers had to move out of the way to avoid being struck by his falling body, he said. Police have said they did not know Raff was holding a butter knife but only saw the flash of metal in the darkened street.

The claim also accused the police department of covering up or conspiring to cover up illegal or unconstitutional conduct. The shooting is being investigated by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office for any possible wrongdoing, the DA's office has confirmed.

Haddad said that he believes police claims are suspect in part because the department has refused to release the video tapes of the shooting, which would presumably exonerate them. The police department has refused to allow attorneys and Raff's parents to view the recordings, he said. Police have also denied reporters access to view the videos.

Cremer's attorneys have made a formal demand in the claim for the city to preserve all evidence, including the video recordings and any dispatch tapes, interviews and written records.

The city can choose to offer a settlement or reject the claim. Cremer would then have the choice of filing a lawsuit.

Related content:

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

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

Fatal shooting brings questions about police tactics to Palo Alto

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57 people like this
Posted by So Sorry
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 22, 2016 at 3:45 pm

I am so very sorry for the parents of the victim, but I truly believe he was a victim of his illness, not the police.

It was cruel of him to use the police as his means of committing suicide-- cruel to the officers, his parents, and anyone who loved him.

14 people like this
Posted by palo altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:13 pm

prosecute and charge these cops with murder. They were out of line to assassinate a mentally unstable man. [Portion removed.]

What is going on today is sad.

21 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:15 pm

I support your lawsuit and think it is impolite for people to come here and
argue with you. Two trained police officers failed to follow procedure and
put themselves in a situation where their only reaction to kill someone. That
is a failure any way you look at it.

If the victim jumped out at the police from behind the bushes, both officers
should not have been standing to close without paying attention. Yes, they
are police officers and they have leave to execute their jobs as they see fit,
and even get the benefit of the doubt when they screw up.

Go look at the Google Street view of this area, it is a very open and at
night fairly well-lit location.

Whether this case wins or loses, it is the right thing to do to send a message
at the very least to the police department. This kind of thing keeps happening
over and over. Why is it American Exceptionalism lately so often seems to
take the form of doing exceptionally worse than other developed countries,
and yet we keep clinging to it?

I understand the police officers' dilemma, but this was a failure, if not in training
then of the officer's failing to follow or receive good training.

8 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:21 pm

"So sorry", you are manufacturing facts that you do not know about just to blindly support the police. [Portion removed.] The police department like everyone else in working America is expected to get better and safer at their jobs every year. That doesn't occur when the cheerleaders and kicking, waiving their pom-poms and high-kicking to distract everyone with false pride so they do not think about the reality of the situation. [Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2016 at 12:38 pm

resident is a registered user.

The first comment by "So sorry" was made by someone who clearly does not understand mental illness. To accuse someone who is experiencing hallucinations as "cruel" is both ignorant and heartless.

17 people like this
Posted by Paramedic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Paramedic is a registered user.

Suicide is a selfish act that punishes ones loved ones. It points a finger from the grave that says, You did this to me!
It is also a permanent solution to a temporary problem

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2016 at 2:03 pm

resident is a registered user.

How do you know this person was trying to commit suicide? I thought he was having hallucinations.

1 person likes this
Posted by LRT
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 23, 2016 at 7:36 pm

LRT is a registered user.

Many in Palo Alto have family members who have experienced psychosis. Unfortunately, the supposedly "trained police" are our only resource during a family member's mental health crisis. The young man, that fateful evening, was likely experiencing altered perception of reality and but may have remembered that calling the police was a way to get help.The "suicide by cop" is a childish concept perpetrated by the media because it sounds cute. It is barbaric for a society to treat people with a mental illness this way. My heart broke when I heard of the incident last December. There has to be a stop to the madness of shooting our citizens because of a "perceived" threat. That threat apparently includes anything metal or sufficiently solid with a tip: Scissors of any type, butter knife, knitting needles, pencils, pens, and apparently hands in pockets and on and on and on. How do the British do it without firearms? I assume they have the same percentage of mentally ill. I wouldn't get self righteous quite yet neighbors, because but for the grace of the good one, goes everyone .

5 people like this
Posted by Paramedic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Paramedic is a registered user.

Having lived in England/Scotland for a number of years, I can tell you that criminals, gangs, radical Muslims all have firearms. The average Bobbie on the beat does not. Nor does the average citizen. It has become a problem of safety for citizens, because when people are held hostage, special forces who are allowed to legally have firearms have to be called in, at great expense to the taxpayers.

5 people like this
Posted by daniel
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 23, 2016 at 10:20 pm

daniel is a registered user.

I cannot believe this. Let's see ... Someone jumps at you in the dark with a knife. Someone else you have no more reason to trust yells "Don't shoot please ..." OK then, I will just stand there and see what happens; maybe he won't kill me.

If the man was not dangerous, as all here (and the lawsuit) imply, why was he outside waving the knife? Why was he in the outpatient treatment in downtown Palo Alto, if he was not exactly fit for that? Why is Momentum not being sued but the cops who were unfortunate to have to do what was not their job?

The parents (or mother), as far as I remember, gave up on their son and lived in a different state. Maybe if they kept him close, the life would be going easier on the poor sick man?

Now the grieving mother carefully calculated her "economical and non-economical" damages. The life of her son should be worth of something ... She should be ashamed of herself.

The cops might have acted not the best possible way but they were doing somebody else's job. It was not their duty to care about the poor man after many other people failed him.

Like this comment
Posted by LRT
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 25, 2016 at 1:47 am

LRT is a registered user.

I am truly disturbed by the insensitivity shown by Palo Alto residents for the mentally ill. Maybe a public education forum needs to be held if this is the best we can muster in an educated community. And to the person familiar with the British Bobbie's, there is always a more civilized way; Britain does not have the homicide, suicide or gun violence rate that the US has. How much is a human life worth? Likely more than the cost of "special forces."

Like this comment
Posted by TEG
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2016 at 10:25 pm

TEG is a registered user.

Readers, please disregard the ignorant and hurtful comments by Daniel.
Daniel, how dare you comment on something that you know absolutely nothing about!
The parents of William Raff had done everything that they possibly could to try to help their son. Inadequate medical privacy laws often caused extreme frustration. As an adult, even a patient with psychological challenges can limit medical information given to family, sadly creating obstacles in their constant efforts to help. They did everything in their power to try to provide and support any medical assistance available for their only son.They have always been active, involved and loving participants in their son's life up until his very last day. His father had visited and brought family gifts to Will on that Christmas Day. His mother had visited in Palo Alto earlier and spoke to Will on the phone on that Christmas Day. They have Never "failed" or "given up on" Will. They do not, and have never lived in another state than Will. They visited and spoke on the phone often, traveled together, attended family gatherings, reunions, weddings, funerals together, lovingly cared for Will's Grandfather together, shared and supported his passion for surfing since he was a little boy, visited at college, shared a love of the outdoors, nature, environmental consciousness, ecology, recycling, flowers and landscaping, hiking, fishing (Will tied amazingly beautiful and detailed "flies" for fishing), recently helped him move and transported family furniture to his new home, and spent family holidays together. I Do know Daniel, because they spent Christmas together with me at my home just last year!
Daniel, if you knew his mother, you would feel the pain she is experiencing, and realize that any action that she is a part of is not for any personal gain, she has always personally chosen a hard working and conscientious life with few material or frivolous needs. She adored her son. Her aim, only to create and stimulate an awareness of the need for education, respect, compassion, awareness, increased understanding and change in the treatment of all individuals with psychological challenges, and their families who love them. Sometimes that begins with the legal system. She never wants another tragedy like this to happen to another son, daughter or family again.
Daniel, reading your disrespectful and completely false comments truly hurts the Family who knew and continue to Love and Miss Will deeply. The true Will was a very dear, respectful, gentle, ever forgiving, caring, sensitive and truly loving man. He learned that from his parents, who Never Gave Up on their son.
Daniel, Please, be careful what you write in the future.

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