A federal judge has overturned a jury's $511,000 damage award to the family of a mentally ill man who was shot to death by a Santa Rosa police officer and granted the officer's request for a new trial.
The eight-member jury agreed unanimously in September that Sgt. Richard Celli had not acted in self-defense or for any other legitimate purpose when he shot Richard DeSantis, who had gotten up from the ground, where he had been ordered to stay, and headed toward Celli and other officers. Jurors awarded $343,000 to his wife and daughter for economic losses and $168,000 to the family for emotional distress and loss of love and companionship.
That verdict was "contrary to the clear weight of the evidence," U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco said Monday. The judge set the verdict aside, but denied Celli's request to dismiss the suit, saying DeSantis' family had presented enough evidence to bring the case before another jury. He told them to attend a settlement conference before setting a new trial date.
Santa Rosa City Attorney Caroline Fowler said she was "happy that Sgt. Celli has been vindicated." The ruling shows that the family will have "a very difficult time" proving its claims if the case is retried, she said.