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Family of slain Palo Alto teacher Kyle Hart sues Redwood City police

Original post made on Apr 14, 2021

The family of Palo Alto teacher Kyle Hart has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Redwood City and members of its police department for the December 2018 shooting that mortally wounded Hart during a mental health crisis.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 14, 2021, 6:40 PM

Comments (21)

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2021 at 7:41 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

My heart goes out to Kristin Hart and her beautiful children for the murder of her beloved husband by the Redwood City Police. The police have an abominable record when it comes to responding to mental health issues, yet for no reason whatsoever most cities -- including Palo Alto -- dispatch the police in response to mental health emergencies.

Kyle Hart's death was avoidable. For decades we have known that mental health professionals, not armed police officers, are the only safe responders to mental health emergencies, as well as to domestic violence. When armed officers enter these situations, more times than not, their methods escalate rather than deescalate the crises. The police apparently is aware of this problem, yet still cities send them in to respond to situations that far too often lead to the death of innocent fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, neighbors, and friends.

Palo Alto has the opportunity to change this with our PAPD. Join me in urging the Palo Alto City Council to take armed officers off responding to mental health calls, replacing them instead with trained volunteers or - better - paid social workers and mental health professionals. (They also should be taken off traffic enforcement. Why does an enforcer need to be armed with a gun when they arrest a driver for speeding?)

I am disappointed and saddened that Redwood City did not do better for the Hart Family. I wish Ms. Hart all of the success in recovering justice from Redwood City. I say this even though I know that no amount of money will bring back her husband -- a man who would be alive today if not for the horrific violence of an armed police force that killed a man who only sought their help to live.

On behalf of the Hart family, I hope we can work together to ensure that no other human being has to suffer this tragic, avoidable fate -- and that no other family needs to be torn apart by trigger-heavy officers whose only strategy entails shooting to kill.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:06 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

My heart goes out to the Hart family as well. This death was avoidable. The police aren't trained to handle a mental health crisis. That's what mental health professionals are for. If you don't want the police involved, don't call 911. People call the police for protection, but if you're dealing with a mental health crisis, call a mental health professional.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:33 pm

eileen is a registered user.

It is so sad that when we call 911 for help we can't be sure that we will survive. What kind of crazy police force do we have? All police officers should be trained in dealing with mental illness and drug abuse. Treat these people with respect! :(

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:53 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Heartbreaking, esp. given the fact that he'd recently changed medications which should have been a giant red flag to the police. Even in "normal" medical emergencies the police prefer excessive force to caring, diagnosis, sympathy.

(My partner called PA 911 after I had a horrible case of food poisoning. Given the way we and our friendly dog were treated, I told him to never ever call 911 again and to just drive me to an emergency ward. I still get chills thinking about their conduct.)

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2021 at 10:31 pm

felix is a registered user.

If we can fund it, there is a good chance Palo Alto will have a CAHOOTS type mental health crisis response capability instead of police. It would respond direct from 911 dispatch with mental health professionals trained in deescalation and other specialized techniques for crises situations in low key well equipped mobile units.

Most of the killings by police in our county are mentally ill people. The last killing by police in Palo Alto was a mentally ill man in crisis.

Most of this is likely preventable. Police don’t want to do this - free them to do policing and let mental health worker do their work.

Posted by John
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 15, 2021 at 5:19 am

John is a registered user.

It’s a great practice to send mental health professionals to people suffering a breakdown. These professionals aren’t suicidal though and their policy is to bring police along for protection anyway, especially in cases involving weapons and violence.

Once someone charges at you with a knife though, options are limited.

Posted by Michael Rowe
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 6:59 am

Michael Rowe is a registered user.

All of the recommendations suggesting that a professional mental health specialist handle these kinds of cases have overlooked a key factor/consideration.

And that is...what if the person physically attacks the mental health specialist?

That noted, are these 'talk-down' specialists to be armed or accompanied by an armed police officer who has the option of shooting the individual in question?

So all in all, the scenario essentially amounts to the same thing unless teams of 24/7 'mental health' units consisting of a cop + a ride along mental health specialist are created.

And what about incidents where the subject does not or cannot speak English?
Will multi-lingual mental health specialists also be required?

Given the number of outside languages now being translated in DMV and various social services instructions/forms, this opens up a major can of worms.

The only practical solution is to have the police continue to respond but only allow them the use of tasers (or an animal tranquilizer gun) in these situations.

Then have the subject transported off to a mental health facility for observation and further diagnostics.

This approach could also be used on drug-related disturbances.

In other words, use an Animal Control approach...tranquilize, subdue, and remove from the scene.

It is not rocket science and lives will be saved in the process.

Posted by Alejandro Morales
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 8:35 am

Alejandro Morales is a registered user.

Was the deceased physically threatening the officer and was the officer's life in eminent danger?

These are the key questions to establish whether the police-assisted killing was warranted.

And lastly, could the officer's taser gun have been utilized instead of his service weapon?

A psychologist is not going to be of much use if the suspect is incoherent, deranged, or unwilling to listen.

That is why the police are utilized to respond to these potentially dangerous situations.

The adherents with their suggestions that mental health experts intervene do not live in the real world.

They merely read the news and make idealistic suggestions in 20/20 hindsight.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 9:25 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Mental health professionals ARE trained to intervene. They spend a lot of years in school, and deal with a lot of mentally ill patients. This man was not threatening his wife or children, he was a threat to himself. You have to treat the mentally ill in a calm, relaxed manner. That's not protocol for police. Let the mental health professionals do their job first, and if necessary -- police backup. That IS the real world. Otherwise, you will continue to see this happening over and over. Unnecessary deaths that lead to lawsuits.

Posted by Vivian Daugherty
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2021 at 9:39 am

Vivian Daugherty is a registered user.

"Let the mental health professionals do their job first, and if necessary -- police backup."

So are we to assume that a mental health expert arrives FIRST...with or without police backup?

And if the suspect attacks the mental health specialist, then what?

Is the police officer authorized to subdue the suspect with whatever means possible (including discharge of his/her service weapon)?

In this scenario, reportage of the incident resorts back to the police officer for a full accounting of the incident.

Or is the mental health expert also allowed to carry a protective weapon (i.e. a handgun or a taser)?

Posted by Weifeng Pan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2021 at 10:18 am

Weifeng Pan is a registered user.

Calling police on a mentally ill is a lot of times a death sentence.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 15, 2021 at 10:48 am

Online Name is a registered user.

If it;'s necessary to stop a person, why aren't police being taught to wound rather than kill?

Posted by Darrin Jeffries
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 11:36 am

Darrin Jeffries is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 15, 2021 at 11:38 am

vmshadle is a registered user.

Starting in the middle of the last century, we in America shut down our inpatient mental institutions by saying we'd shift our mental health care to community-based systems. Except we never did.

Mental illness is not a crime. Furthermore, we have never taken community mental health seriously enough. Law enforcement is not a substitute for social work and mental health services.

Although police should absolutely not be killing patients experiencing mental health crises, we need to pay for and provide *additional* first responders with the appropriate clinical expertise. Police are trained to deal with criminal behavior, not terrified people in the grip of bad brain chemistry. Let's stop tearing families apart by failing to do the right thing by our citizenry.

Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2021 at 11:43 am

Menlo Mom is a registered user.

@Michael, @Vivian, @Alejandro: You all (and many others) ask "well, what happens if the person in the mental health crisis lashes out at the mental health professional sent to the scene? what then?" Your question reminds me of the many lawmakers in the US who lament "but HOW HOW HOW can we provide universal healthcare for our citizens? How would this even be approached, I mean..." when in fact every other developed nation does just this. We don't have to invent this afresh! We have models. Examples of places where it works. Here is an excerpt from a great interview on NPR on Eugene Oregon's Cahoots program from June 10, 2020.

MORGAN: The tools that I carry are my training. I carry my de-escalation training, my crisis training and a knowledge of our local resources and how to appropriately apply them. I don't have any weapons, and I've never found that I needed them.

SHAPIRO: How often do you have to? Escalate? I mean, how often is your training just not enough to handle the problem.

MORGAN: So last year, out of a total of about 24,000 calls, 150 times we called for police backup for some reason, so not very often.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us an example of when you do need to call in the police?

MORGAN: If we believe that someone is in danger especially or is an immediate threat to others. For an example, if somebody is insisting on walking into traffic, I can't ethically just allow them to get hit by a car. But I also cannot restrain them. That is not my job. So that might be an instance where I need to call.

SHAPIRO: Ben, give us some numbers. How much does the program cost, and what measures do you have of its success?

BRUBAKER: Well, I would say that right now the program costs, with all of the combined programs both in Eugene and Springfield, around $2.1 million a year.

SHAPIRO: To put that in perspective, the Eugene Police Department's annual budget is about $70 million and Springfield is about $20 million.

Posted by Screeedek
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 15, 2021 at 11:43 am

Screeedek is a registered user.

If your loved one is having a mental health crisis DO NOT CALL THE POLICE! Just don't. It is a potential death sentence.

Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2021 at 11:48 am

Menlo Mom is a registered user.

^^^ you read that correctly. 24,000 calls where Cahoots went out to help a person in crisis. 150 times they called police for backup.

I have not read of a single case of any mental health counselor working for Cahoots being injured or killed.

So, yes, theoretically, that issue does exist. But my gosh, it does not mean that such programs shouldn't be instituted here and everywhere! Over 50% of police killings originated as a mental health-related call. Also, a Cahoots approach is far less expensive than EMS/police reponse and will *save* money, not cost more...not to mention the cost of litigation and damages when police get trigger happy.

No reason not to move forward with mental health teams in lieu of police for people in crisis.

Posted by laurian williams
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 1:33 pm

laurian williams is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by 1drin
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 15, 2021 at 1:34 pm

1drin is a registered user.

It does seem that police are getting increasingly trigger-happy. So much for their old claim to "protect and serve". It's unconscionable that they fired at that man only 16 seconds (!!!) after they were directed to him. Those two murderers disguised as cops should be paying the lawsuit out of their own pockets.
A few years ago, two Palo Alto cops did exactly the same thing. They were called to a mental health facility near downtown Palo Alto, right before Xmas. They were supposed to de-escalate a poor suicidal man who was in the middle of a crisis. De-escalate it they did. Without making much of an effort to talk him out of his crisis and drop the butter knife (!!!) he was holding, they shot him twice on the chest. Yup, that ended the crisis all right.
The outrage didn't end there. Most commenters were so happy and congratulatory of the cops' actions. They should pray they never have to call police if they or their loved ones are in the middle of a crisis.

Posted by Roger Lithrow
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2021 at 2:03 pm

Roger Lithrow is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2021 at 10:05 pm

Enough is a registered user.

While I agree it is a sad situation and I wish it had been resolved without loss of life, I have to disagree that police are becoming "trigger happy", I have not seen any evidence to suggest that. Police must protect themselves and others when responding to a situation where a person has hurt them self and is threatening others. Having a person with a cleaver come at you after ignoring several warnings to drop the knife and not being affected by a taser seems like a justified use of deadly force. Of course I was not there, nor were any of the people commenting here, so we really don't know what happened.

Much has been said about not calling the police during a mental health crisis, but think about what happens if you don't call them. Does the person with the weapon kill themselves? Do they injure or kill others? Who would you call? Because who ever it is it seems you would be putting them at a high risk of injury or death?

I think a missing data point in this discussion is how often are police called to deal with people having mental health emergencies? What percentage of those calls end up in a violent confrontation and what percentage end up in the use of deadly force? Have those numbers changed in recent years?

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