REDWOOD CITY — The family of a beloved Palo Alto middle school teacher has filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit over his 2018 shooting death by a Redwood City police officer, arguing that police should have treated him as someone in the throes of a suicidal mental-health crisis instead of resorting to deadly force within seconds of encountering him.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the law firm of prominent civil-rights attorney John Burris and also alleges that a deficiency in police training ended in the Dec. 10, 2018 death of 33-year-old Kyle Hart, who was a married father of two young children, including a daughter born just three days before he was killed.
In the years since the deadly shooting, his wife Kristin Hart has advocated for increased and compulsory crisis training for Redwood City officers, and outfitting them with less-lethal armaments and body cameras. The department began rolling out body cameras earlier this year, a practice that has been widely adopted in the past decade by other regional police agencies.
“Kyle was a sick person in need of help, and rather than provide the help they are trained to give, the police killed him,” Kristin Hart stated in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “Kyle deserved better; the citizens of Redwood City deserve better. Kyle will be forever missed by our family and his community.”
Burris and Kristin Hart are scheduled to hold a Wednesday afternoon Zoom news conference to discuss the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages and injunctive relief.
Kyle Hart, who was a popular history and English teacher at Greene Middle School in Palo Alto, had used a knife to slash himself in the forearm, chest and neck the morning of Dec. 10, 2018, prompting his wife to call 911.
Kristin Hart said in an earlier interview with this news organization, that her husband had never shown an inclination to hurt himself, and that officers Roman Gomez and Leila Velez were immediately aggressive when they responded to the family’s home.
“They didn’t use his name, they didn’t ask for any information — they approached him as a criminal and not someone in crisis,” Hart said. “The only question they asked was, ‘Where is he?’ “
Kyle Hart had headed into the back yard with a different knife. According to an investigative report issued by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, Gomez and Velez went into the yard. Gomez immediately told Kyle Hart to drop the butcher knife in his hand, according to the report, but instead, he raised it to shoulder level and started moving toward the officers.
Velez reported firing her Taser at Kyle Hart when he was about 15 feet from the officers, but it did not work because only one of the weapon’s two probes struck him.
The DA report stated that when Kyle Hart had gotten to within 6 to 8 feet of the officers when before Gomez fired five times, hitting him three times. In clearing the officers of any criminal liability, the DA’s office concluded in its report that the confrontation and threat unfolded too rapidly for the officers to do anything other than defend themselves.
Kristin Hart and Burris flatly reject that assertion, and the lawsuit emphasizes how the time that passed between when the officers entered the yard and Kyle Hart was mortally wounded was a total of 16 seconds.
“The family called the police to save Kyle’s life but not for them to take it. This case screams for de-escalation,” Burris said in a statement. “The officers failed to follow generally accepted police practices when confronting a suicidal person by creating time and distance. The officers had no plan (and) consequently Mr. Hart is dead.”
The listed defendants in the lawsuit are Gomez, Velez, police Chief Dan Mulholland, the city of Redwood City, and dozens of other unnamed parties.
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Author: Robert Salonga
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