Fatal shooting brings questions about police tactics to Palo Alto | News | Palo Alto Online |


Fatal shooting brings questions about police tactics to Palo Alto

Santa Clara County District Attorney and Palo Alto Police Department investigate whether Dec. 25 shooting of William David Raff was justified

When two Palo Alto police officers shot and killed William David Raff, 31, outside a Forest Avenue home on Dec. 25, they instantly triggered speculation among the victim's family, friends and the broader community about whether the shooting was just -- and justified.

The question has become increasingly common across the United States in recent years, with high-profile police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City; Cleveland; Baltimore; and Chicago prompting conversations about race and policing. Just this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered a fresh look at how police officers handle calls involving people with mental health problems -- a decision that was prompted by the Dec. 26 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Quintonio Legrier, and his neighbor, Bettie Jones, 55, by a police officer.

The shooting has added more fuel to public outrage over last year's killing of LaQuan McDonald, 17, by a Chicago police officer, an incident that led to the ousting of the city's police superintendent and prompted citizen calls for Emanuel's resignation.

Public concerns about police tactics have also surfaced periodically in Palo Alto, where every incident involving a fired Taser gets scrutinized by an independent police auditor and where the police chief was forced to resign in 2008 after making comments that many in the community perceived as a tacit endorsement of racial profiling.

In 2012, an officer was ordered to undergo additional training for firing a Taser at a 16-year-old bicyclist in violation of department policy. The department also had to pay a $35,000 settlement after a 2008 incident in which officers allegedly lured a man from his van and stunned him with a Taser.

Fatal shootings, meanwhile, remain an extremely rare phenomenon in Palo Alto. Before officers shot and killed Raff, who reportedly charged at them with a table knife, the city hadn't had a police-involved shooting in more than a decade. The last time a person was shot and killed by a Palo Alto officer was in March 2002, when 20-year-old Pedro Calderon was shot and killed after allegedly trying to flee the police in a stolen BMW.

Palo Alto Officer Jessica Perryman and Stanford police Deputy Jeff Bell each fired at Calderon after he allegedly pinned Perryman down between his car and her own, injuring her.

Though that shooting prompted a protest by East Palo Alto residents who knew Calderon, an investigation ultimately cleared Perryman and Bell of any wrongdoing.

Now, Palo Alto police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office are investigating whether deadly force used by the two officers was justified against Raff, who reportedly suffered from schizoaffective disorder and lived in the group home operated by La Selva, an organization affiliated with Momentum For Mental Health.

At the center of the investigation is the question: Did officers Nicholas Enberg and Zachary Wicht believe that Raff posed an imminent threat to themselves or others in the moments before they fired their pistols?

According to the police, video footage from the incident shows Raff charging at the officers with a knife just before Enberg and Wicht fired their pistols at him. The police department's existing policy allows an officer to use deadly force to protect himself/herself or someone else from what the officer "reasonably believes would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury."

The policy also deems deadly force to be justified when an officer is trying to stop a fleeing subject who the officer has probable cause to "believe that the person has committed, or intends to commit, a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily injury or death, and the officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to any other person if the subject is not immediately apprehended."

The policy specifies that under such circumstances, "a verbal warning should precede the use of deadly force, where feasible."

Under the policy, deadly force can be justified even if the suspect isn't pointing a weapon at someone. Imminent danger, in this case, "does not mean immediate or instantaneous," the policy states. It could apply, for example, if an officer reasonably believes that the person has a weapon or is attempting to access one and that he or she "intends to use it against the officer or another."

Imminent danger can also exist if the person "is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death without a weapon and it is reasonable to believe the person intends to do so."

Though the investigation into the Dec. 25 shooting is still in its early stages, police said officers responded to the group home at 652 Forest Ave. 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 investigation indicated that Raff may have been waiting outside for the police.

When the officers got to the scene, Raff allegedly "charged at them in the street while armed with a knife," police said in a statement. Enberg and Wicht then fired their guns at Raff. Officers reportedly provided first aid to Raff before paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital, where he later died.

William Raff's father, Garold Raff, told the Weekly on Monday that he believes the shooting was "unjust" and that officers used excessive force on his son. But under the department's policy, officers are allowed to use "reasonable force" to make an arrest, prevent escape or overcome resistance.

The department's policy includes 17 different factors that officers can consider in determining whether to apply force and whether the force is reasonable. These include the immediacy and severity of the threat to officers or others; the conduct of the individual (as "reasonably perceived by the officer at the time"); the person's "mental state or capacity"; proximity to weapons; and whether the person appears to be "resisting, attempting to evade arrest by flight or is attacking an officer."

Enberg and Wicht have been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard with any officer-involved shooting, the police department said in a news release.

Once the police investigation is completed, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office will review all reports, videos, interview recordings, the autopsy report and other materials to decide if any criminal charges should be filed against the officers, Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shapiro said in an email.

But the public should not expect a speedy turnaround.

"This particular case is in its very early stages, as we do not expect a completed autopsy report for some weeks and because there are more witnesses to interview, among other things," he said.

If no charges are filed, the DA's office will release a detailed report, including how the DA investigators reached their conclusions. The report is usually released within 60 days of completion, but sometimes additional steps must be taken before there is a decision, he said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann contributed reporting to this story.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


3 people like this
Posted by Lex machina
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 4:52 pm


The applicable standards for police conduct are in California and federal law, not PA department policy.

I hope PA policy mirrors current California and federal law. I look forward to the DA's analysis of this.

Posted by cops tell lies!
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards

on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:35 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

11 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:39 pm

"Fatal shooting brings questions about police tactics to Palo Alto"

...from every armchair.

12 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 10:28 am

What a sorry article this. Comparing this shooting to Ferguson?? Really???

The real issue is not police tactics, it's that mental health has become a crisis in our country. There have clearly been failures at many levels when people who are seriously mentally ill are walking the streets armed with knives and charging at police. By the time the police are confronted with a situation like this one, it is far too late.

And while I am saddened at the outcome in this situation (for all involved), I'm not sure what anyone could do differently (police or not) when someone charges them with a knife - you have to protect yourself.

4 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

I remember what happened to Officer Perryman. That guy came at her with a 3500 lb. deadly weapon. She was entitled to defend her life.

9 people like this
Posted by Can't believe it
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Since yesterday, there was a flood of opinions on what happened - mostly from the "armchairs cops" - about deescalating, disarming, shooting in the hand, foot, or other limb, trying to figure what kind of a knife that was, and quietly contemplating while the guy is running at you with a knife.

Stop watching Chuck Norris movies. Cops are the last barrier between a deranged individual and you ... and you ... and you ... and maybe your kid who happen to walk his dog nearby.

They protected the community and yes they protected themselves, at least that is how it looks at this point.

The problem was created by the organization which set up that sort of facility right down town, in the middle of the residential neighborhood. A schizophrenic can snap any moment; correct me if I am wrong.
The cops were unfortunate to have to clean up somebody's mess. It was a tragedy bound to happen.

As far as the police tactics, PA is not really the place where we can complain about that.

4 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

It appears the deceased was lying in wait and ready to ambush whoever showed up after making a false report to 911.

3 people like this
Posted by Not So Fast
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Is this group home a place where staff are on duty 24/7? Do residents have private rooms? cellphones? What were other residents and/or staff doing while the victim called 911 and ran outside with a knife? Could someone have called 911 to alert the officers that this was a mentally ill person? Are police and police dispatchers made aware when they receive a call that it is coming from a psychiatric facility/nursing home/group home/etc?

I've attended the community police academy and feel empathy for the kind of stress these officers likely experienced. They were told there was a violent person at the residence who wanted to do harm and then arrived at the scene to encounter a dangerous person appearing to want to do harm to them. I wouldn't have stopped to examine the knife more closely or try to figure out if the person was a resident of the house or was mentally ill, on some sort of narcotic or whatever. It would be unreasonable and unsafe to aim for an arm or a leg of a charging suspect. They officer who shot the taser apparently missed.

I fully expect that if I or anyone else runs towards police officers while brandishing a knife and ignoring their commands they are going to get shot. But then I'm a sane person.

6 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Dec 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

My deepest sympathy for the family. But I urge everyone to wait until the facts are in. Speculation and emotional arguments do nothing for anyone except to hurt the family and the PAPD.

Unless the facts show otherwise, I give the PA Police Offices the benefit of the doubt because they job that they do is 'nearly impossible'. Their jobs are not to 'please' anyone. Their job is to protect the public and themselves under the law.

1 person likes this
Posted by Cancerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2015 at 2:34 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.

1 person likes this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 4:14 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by hmmm
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2015 at 5:25 pm

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

4 people like this
Posted by cv15-06117
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 1, 2016 at 5:00 am

Taking sides of a matter good cop, bad cop, mentally unstable, knife wielding... ok those are good opinions on all sides usually comes from personal experience.

I think the title is exactly right,"brings questions" and then states other incidences of Palo Alto Police misconduct.
I know the 2008 taser incident with Ciampi revealed without question " police department audio video tampering" (please Google) evidence. I read the report on that case in great detail. It was shown, proven via. "Forensic Lab" that the tasering video was altered/tampered with to benefit the overall appearance of the PAPD. That case was ultimately dropped.
There has been several other cases involving PAPD and tampering with audio video evidence. With out question there has been a rabbit trail of evidence left behind linking PAPD and those possibly involved with altering evidence. But evidence has been altered.
Good cops yes, a small hand full of bad ones... YES!

The case number cv15-06117 filed December 28th, 2015 in San Jose Federal court against the PAPD and others, outlines
1. Tampering with evidence
2. Approx 8 minutes of missing video / altered
3. Forensic lab showing officer DR in two different places at the same time, voice overlap interrupting himself... and a host of other anomalies liken to swiss cheese.

In light of the shooting I knew would happen some day, the PAPD has the ability to "alter" without suspicion car cam/taser cam video and claim it is authentic. Case cv15-06117 outlines with proof of "tampering" to back up the "claim".

There has been different cases in 2008, 2009, (2012, 2014,2015 respectively and concurrently ongoing) ALL siting audio video tampering with the evidence.
Are there good Cops, absolutely!! Should PAPD be trusted. NO!
When a Police Department has made a history of tampering with evidence..... nobody is safe from the reach of corruption. Nobody!!

Is this article written well and addresses concerns about "tactics"? I would say yes.
For me it hits a chord too close to home.
God bless the good in all of us... and hold accountable those who chose to recklessly abuse that power and authority.

Palo Alto is NOT SAFE.

2 people like this
Posted by Can't believe it
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm


I stumbled upon your comment. You are not making it clear if the case filed is about this last shooting (December 28, 2015! That would be way to quick) The facts are yet to be verified and proved in court. Until then why should we trust that? No matter, you are trying to make the case that PA is not safe. Where is it safe, or safer than in PA?

Here is a thought: not challenging the police with knives and other weapons makes it much ... MUCH safer ... everywhere. It is obvious for everybody.
What happened was either a suicide, or a relapse of a mental illness. Both are no good grounds for a case you are trying to make.

Like this comment
Posted by EPOL
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2016 at 4:05 pm

@ cv15-06117, Tim Pierce v. city of Palo Alto, Dennis Burns and Dan Ryan.
[Portion removed.]
Web Link
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2016 at 5:23 am

>> It appears the deceased was lying in wait and ready to ambush whoever showed up after making a false report to 911.

Hulk, did you ever take a drive down that block, or check it out
on Google maps ... there is very little trees, bushes or anything
on that propoerty's front or side yard.

The police said he was jumping around from behind a bush if
I recall correctly. IF it was actually on that property I wonder
where he could have done that.

The City should release this video to satisfy residents what was
done was necessary.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Anne Le Ziblatt, formerly of Tamarine and Bong Su, is back with a Vietnamese noodle bar in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 7 comments | 3,755 views

Local Pols Debate Climate
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 3,068 views

Truth Matters (and so does good beer)
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,373 views

You Can Help: Scents and Migraines
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,181 views

The E.R.A. – no real equality yet. Why not?
By Diana Diamond | 15 comments | 1,068 views