News


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

Many questions, few answers in death of Palo Alto man with severe mental illness, father says

The father of William David Raff, the man fatally shot by Palo Alto police on Christmas night, said his only child had a long history of mental illness. But he called his son's death "an unjust shooting."

Raff, 31, allegedly called police to the La Selva Group mental health residential center on the 600 block of Forest Avenue in Palo Alto claiming that someone wanted to harm a person at the home. When police arrived, Raff, who lived there, was standing in the street. He allegedly lunged at police while holding a knife, according to police.

But his father, Garold Raff, said he and his former wife believe their son is the victim of police using excessive force.

He admitted that he did not know all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, but if his son had been armed with a gun, Garold Raff said he could understand the necessity for officers to shoot.

"Reportedly, my son had a butter knife, not a lethal weapon, and for them to just shoot him ... this is so far off any reason," he said, referring to news reports that quoted a resident of the house.

"It's just awful. It was challenging enough to just help him, and to have him treated this way was so excessive. ... In our opinion, it was mishandled," he said from his home in Southern California on Monday evening.

He and Raff's mother are exploring potential litigation, he said.

Palo Alto police spokesman Zach Perron said he could not comment on whether William Raff had been holding a butter knife, since the incident is still under investigation. But in an update to this story, on Tuesday he said the metal knife was 9 inches long, had a slightly serrated edge and a tapered, slightly-rounded tip. He described it as a table knife as opposed to the smaller, formal 3-inch butter knife.

Garold Raff also lamented the mental health system that should have helped protect their son, who had schizoaffective disorder. The system leaves parents out of the loop and their severely mentally ill adult children vulnerable, he said.

"We are in so much grief," Garold Raff said. His son had only resided at the La Selva house about a week.

When William Raff was a child, there was no indication of the illness that was to follow. He was a "perfect" son growing up, his father said. He never went through the terrible twos nor was he a troubled teenager. He learned to ski and surf, and he played tournament golf at the country club with his grandmother.

But his parents became puzzled when it took eight years for their son to graduate from college. He studied business at San Diego State University and then landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, where he earned a degree. They didn't know until he left college — and no longer had access to his medications — that their son had a devastating mental illness.

What followed were numerous hospitalizations in psychiatric wards, stabilization with medication, then spirals downward when he stopped taking the medication. There were periods of paranoia and illusions of grandiosity.

People with schizoaffective disorder, a serious mental disorder that can involve psychotic breaks from reality and wide mood swings, often must take a cocktail of medications that produce many side effects. Patients sometimes have trouble accepting a lifetime of heavy medication, and Raff would go through cycles — getting stable, seeming to stay on his medicines, then falling away and returning to illness and psychiatric facilities, his father said.

Several months ago, Garold Raff purchased a home in Felton where his son was living. Raff liked the Bay Area — he disliked Southern California — and he held many jobs while living here. Early on, he worked for a landscaping company as an installer, his father said, laboring 10 hours a day four days a week. But then the company upped his 10-hour days to five.

"He burned out," his father said.

As time went on, his illness became more severe, his father said. About a month ago, Raff attempted suicide, was taken to a hospital emergency room and later placed in a locked psychiatric ward. It was his second attempt in a year. The first had taken place in Southern California, according to his father.

After becoming stable, he was transferred to La Selva. He was allowed to sign out to take a walk on the street for a short period of time.

But the overall restrictions on his life because of his illness were sometimes frustrating, his father said.

"Every now and then he was disgusted and excitable about the circumstances he was living in," his father said.

Since his son entered La Selva, Garold Raff said he only had a few passing conversations with staff. But he had a feeling that his son's mental state was unraveling again.

"I didn't sense that things were going right; I wanted to talk to them. I was trying to find out what they do. I was getting nervous," Garold Raff said. "It was the same feeling of 'I don't know where this is going' sort of thing. The system just leaks away."

As an adult, Raff was protected by privacy laws that often left his parents outside of the circle of his care, his father said. There were "huge gaps" in his son's treatment, and overall, Garold Raff found the profession of psychiatric care to be "erratic as hell."

"I know it's not an exacting profession; it's sort of a fishing expedition," he said.

"I never felt that the system allowed me to receive adequate information to feel comfortable with his conditions," he said.

When asked Monday if anyone at La Selva had reached out to him since his son's death, Garold Raff was silent for a long time — so long that it seemed as though the phone line had disconnected.

"I'm stunned," he said, pausing again. "No, I haven't heard from them."

Michael Hayes — director of development and communications for the Momentum For Mental Health, the nonprofit parent organization to La Selva Group — said in an email on Monday that the organization could not comment to the public on details related to the incident.

"As you can imagine there is much sensitivity around this topic and really no ability to elaborate given this is still an open investigation," he wrote.

Momentum released a statement Monday morning that read in part: "Our residential program ... is a Transitional Residential program. It is fully licensed by the State of California Department of Social Services and Department of Health since 1979.

"This program is staffed by over a dozen mental health professionals — including psychiatrists, psychologists, nursing staff and experienced clinicians — who usually work with 12 residents at a time."

Garold Raff said he holds a picture in his mind of his son before the illness robbed him of his life.

"He was really a handsome kid — blue eyes, blonde hair and a great smile," he said.

Comments

35 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:43 am

[Portion removed.]

In suburban towns like PA, perhaps we need to disarm patrol cops, and instead put deadly weapons only in the hands of a quick reaction weapons unit with more courage/better training. The patrol cops can still have batons, spray, taser, shield, etc.

The pistols, shotguns, and military carbines I see in PA patrol cars are too much. It's more firepower than an infantryman had in WWII.

Seems when the patrol cops have hammers, everyone else may at one time or another be a nail.




15 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

Such a tragic story. My condolences got out to Raff's parents and everyone else who knew and loved him.


33 people like this
Posted by Annette Isaacson
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

It's becoming clear that police nationwide need training in defusing situations involving people with mental illness. Perhaps some the money available to local police for anti -terrorist equipment and training could be used to fund better training for dealing with the mentally ill. I don't think stun guns or regular guns fill the bill.


70 people like this
Posted by Self Defense
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 10:53 am

Anyone, including a policemen, is entitled to use deadly force if there is a reasonable belief (even if mistaken) that he or she is threatened with death or severe bodily harm. Someone running at you with what looks like a knife (even if it turns out to be a butter knife), clearly falls within the definition of such a threat. This appears to be a tragic case of "suicide by cop." The notion that some lesser means should be used is in effect a proposal that it is better to increase the risk to a police officer's life than it is to risk the life of someone who attacks the police. I say no thanks to that.


27 people like this
Posted by Michele
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:06 am

I am so sorry for the family and also for the officers. Please accept my condolences. Life is not easy when you have a member who is mentally ill. It is truly a roller coaster. HIPA laws that are supposed to protect clients work against these clients who need family involvement.


30 people like this
Posted by Chance
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:08 am

It unnerves me to hear the phrase "suicide by cop". It lets everyone off the hook. That young man was a human being struggling with a mental health issue just as devastating as cancer, Alzheimer's or Diabetes. The Police need to be relived of their involvement in this issue as they've proven that they are not up to the task. A specially trained, un armed (no guns) mental health Rapid Response team should be the norm. San Mateo County has one. It's time Santa Clara and the rest of the country get on board.


21 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:13 am

I would really appreciate the PAPD explaining why they use this type of force (guns) when they know the situation concerns a mental health facility. Wouldn't a taser or trickery be better at subduing a person who is having an obvious mental health episode? Maybe there should be a dedicated police force with backgrounds in psychology and dealing with people who have mental health problems. Also, maybe the police force should listen to parents who have to worry about their children who are now adults so understand the anguish they suffer, mostly because they are not permitted to intervene because of the child being of adult age. I think the law should be changed so that parents can at least be advised of what is happening to their children.


31 people like this
Posted by Bob March
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:27 am

Seems a little premature to accept the "butter knife" story, Resident, and to leap to the conclusion that the police should be disarmed. You've seen no video, heard no audio, evaluated no witnesses. Neither have any of us. Wait for the facts.


16 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:30 am

Many thanks to Garald Raff for sharing the extremely difficult experiences for both his son and the family in dealing with William's mental illness. With the law preventing the family from being informed on William's treatment and progress, it seems to have left him to be his own advocate. Even if he were receiving reasonable medical support, there is no substitute for the consistency of caring friends and family in any medical treatment, let alone this more extreme case. Tragic on many levels.


14 people like this
Posted by Lex
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:37 am

@self defense:

You misunderstand the law. From the Judicial Council of California, Criminal Jury Instructions:

"The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if:

[1] The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] {insert name or description of third party}) was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being (raped/maimed/robbed/ {insert other forcible and atrocious crime})];

[2] The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND {emphasis in the original}

[3] The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.”

Here, the pair of cops may have objectively failed [3], above. We'll see as the facts and circumstances come to light in an investigation. But under circumstances of there being two officers; the confrontation location being outside and open for maneuver; the weapons, armor and training of each policeman; the cops may have acted unlawfully.


22 people like this
Posted by Taser
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:41 am

I'm horrified and why didn't they use the tasers they spent so much money on. Or shoot his arm, absently ridiculous shot and killed Him you kidding me. Also was there film camera going. My thoughts Go out to this family how horrific.


17 people like this
Posted by Oh ok.
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:48 am

I really don't think taking 8 years to get through college at a state system where classes and budgets were cut during that time has anything to do with the son's mental illness. Furthermore, it seems as if he changed his major transferred to an excellent school and graduated. Eight years or not, that is more achieved accomplishment than a lot of people have. [Portion removed.]


40 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:51 am

"It's becoming clear that police nationwide need training in defusing situations involving people with mental illness."

Police cannot diagnose or treat mental illness. What they can do is respond to a call about someone in a house trying to hurt others. If they show up and someone charges them with a knife they can also react to defend themselves and other. They do not have the benefit of hindsight - they are a reaction to the situation that presents itself.

This situation is terrible no doubt, but the response needs to be realistic. If I ever need the police I sure hope they dont send an army of psychiatrists to asses the situation.


16 people like this
Posted by attatlaw
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Nowadays dozens of cases have been reported of people been killed by police for the wrong reason. It looks like the COPS are acting like in a war situation where they see an enemy in every situation and they (possibly) act guided by some fear and of a lack of training. Common sense must be used at all time.

My condolences to Mr Raff and all the family,


36 people like this
Posted by Wife of M.D.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Let me first say that this is a tragic accident and my condolences to the family.

Also, it's easy to be an expert in retrospect, but as a parent, I have learned (the hard way) that if something doesn't seem right (even if it's a physician saying it) go elsewhere, get a second opinion. Trust your gut!

Why do people think that policemen must die before the assailants? That they must be a split second away from death before they should fight back? It's okay that a policeman dies because he's sworn to keep the public safe so he accepts death while others don't accept that destiny? Who's doing more good for the community? The person with the weapon and rap sheet (not necessarily this incident) or the person trying to keep the peace? I respect law enforcement. Sure, there are the bad ones, but there are bad in every profession. Anyone who chooses a career where they risk their lives for strangers (law enforcement, firemen, military) should be commended and respected. As Jack Nicholson famously said in the movie, "A Few Good Men" (although he broke a law in the movie, the words are still relevant): "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said 'thank you' and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand the post."


12 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Schizoaffective disorder is not a personality disorder, it is a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood symptoms. Please do some basic research before writing about mental illness - casual ignorance is part of the problem.


12 people like this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Lex,

the operative word in the code is "reasonably". As we all know almost anything can be justified by the one's "own" definition of reasonable. The reasonable fear of bodily harm has to be founded otherwise anybody with a questionable fear of something or other can murder or maim with impunity. So courts, both criminal and civil try to assess the circumstances and come to a resolution of constituted , in any particular case, fear reasonable enough to warrant killing. I grew in Europe and lived in a few different countries for some decades. In those countries there are other means and so it doesn't seem to me that the response to a knife should be firing and killing. Why the response? Whether in this particular case the killing was justified must be seen in the light of the options that the police officers had at their disposal to deal with the situation. Better training and better tools are needed. Surely, William Raff didn't need to die. My heart goes out to his parents and family. Nothing worse than this in anybody's life.


2 people like this
Posted by Lex
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:04 pm

@ ndd

Indeed, reasonableness in the jury instruction (law) that I cited above is taken as objective reasonableness in light of the facts and circumstances. As you say, it is not, for example, the defendant/policeman's subjective standard of what seemed reasonable to him/her.


16 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:12 pm

This is a tragic story. For everyone involved, including the officer involved. We do not know the facts of the case, yet. That said, to the person who quoted Jack Nicholson's character from "a few good men": it's a bit far fetched, to say the least. This sort of ridiculous argument really hurts the discourse. No one is forced to be a policeman. Plenty of taxpayer money is spent in paying and training the police and with all due respect, they have every obligation (regardless of their "inclination" to do so) to explain why they would shoot and kill a mentally ill person who was charging at them with a knife. The public has every right to question the decision making and the level of training of the officer involved. We deserve a clear and thorough explanation, in fact. There might be a valid and reasonable explanation. There might not. Hopefully, we will know once the investigation is done. But please, do not tell us to unquestionably be in awe of the police. This is not a movie, this is real life. This is the sort of arrogance that has led to excessive use of force country wide.


14 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:23 pm

I'm so sorry Mr. Raff for you, your son and your family. Your son had a brain disorder, which is treatable. My father did, too. The law wouldn't allow us to have him hospitalized or take medication, because he didn't want to. He went to Harvard Graduate School and was beat to death on the street, homeless. As a psychologist I went to law school to find out why so many people with brain disorders are incarcerated or killed by our legal professionals. I found out that police, lawyers and judges aren’t educated in brain science and what happens to people's behavior when their brain gets sick (no ABA requirement). Modern brain science has flown past our legal professionals, case law and statutes. The whole system in incompatible with what we know about people today…yet, their job is to manage people's behavior. Again, I'm sorry for your loss. I hope you can find some way of moving forward when those who are supposed to protect your son and society have failed.


8 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Mary and Parent - thank you for such thoughtful posts. I'm very sorry for the deceased and his loved ones. What a tragedy!

I'm also sorry for the officers and their loved ones who are grappling with the results of this horror.

Mary, in thinking about what you said about those enforcing and regulating the laws governing human behavior, and their lack of knowledge of brain science - what about La Selva House? How did this man slip through the cracks so quickly, as a newcomer, that he was able to efficiently create police drama designed to do himself in?


23 people like this
Posted by Wife of M.D.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:54 pm

@Parent: I am not promoting excessive force, but you must understand that hindsight is 20/20. Why can't policemen be scared for their life? Why do you think that a mentally ill person cannot be dangerous? The facts have been published and PAPD gave this man every chance to correct his behavior before they fatally shot him. It was a 19 second event - there isn't much time to ponder the consequences. Shame on you for devaluing the life of a policeman; don't call the police for any help when you need it.

From the PAPD Press Release:

"The suspect got close enough to them that one officer who fired his pistol had to move to avoid being struck by the falling suspect."

-------------------------------------

"Three officers arrived on scene and began walking towards the front lawn of the residence. The suspect emerged from the shadows in front of the home while brandishing a knife in his hand and jumping around erratically. The officers immediately called for emergency back-up while retreating from the property, and gave the suspect multiple commands to drop the knife as they backed up. As the officers further retreated to the street, one officer requested an emergency response from any unit equipped with a particular less-lethal weapon that fires a hard rubber munition.

As the officers continued retreating towards their police cars, the suspect moved to the middle of the street and continued jumping around erratically while waving the knife. Officers continued to repeat their commands to drop the knife, but the suspect ignored them. The suspect then suddenly sprinted directly at the officers while screaming and waving the knife. As the suspect closed in on them, one officer fired a Taser and two officers fired their pistols as he charged. The suspect got close enough to them that one officer who fired his pistol had to move to avoid being struck by the falling suspect."


8 people like this
Posted by Charlotte
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 1:56 pm

I live in mtn view. The police were they from England would not have shot this distressed young man. Guns create more suffering. Death. A door once closed that can never be opened again.


7 people like this
Posted by Anoni
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Wife of M.D.

Hope you realize the movie "A Few Good Men" was fiction, and that the Pentagon has for years directly influenced the production of a wide variety of movies and television shows. When movie production companies are accessing military hardware, the Department of Defense requires approval of the scripts, a process which can result in line-by-line edits by the government of film and television plots and dialogue.


"You’re watching Pentagon propaganda: the truth about your favorite shows"
Salon Magazine ~ July 31, 2015 Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by j.l.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:01 pm

[Portion removed.]

It is indeed curious that the police respond to a call at a registered group home for the second time in one day by an obviously distressed person with guns.... secondly, if you recall the palo alto police force was unreachable for comment for at least 48 hours following the incident.

Geez, if I wasn't so innocent, I'd probably think that someone is hiding something or that it it's even close to reasonable (in any way) that it took 48 hours to come up with a public relations, politician and legal approved statement after a officer involved killing in a city that touts itself to be one of the more educated places on the peninsula


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:08 pm

RIP to the deceased and sincere condolences to his family. I also want to offer condolences to the PAPD who caused his death.

Unfortunately, this sounds more and more like the young man was suicidal as he had attempted suicide before and his mental state was severely affected by his condition. I have friends whose adult son committed suicide after a couple of attempts and several threats to do so. As the family grappled with the son's mental condition their lives were a constant concern for his safety and every time the phone rang or the doorbell rang late at night, they dreaded to hear the call of the next episode. Their worries were laid to rest with their son about 5 years ago when he did succeed. As sad and traumatic as it was for them at the time, and as much as they miss him even now, they are no longer worried for him. They do not have to worry about late night phone calls or doorbells ringing. They do not have to worry that another episode will give them a fresh trauma. The parents were not the only ones to suffer as the adult siblings were also suffering too as in this family's case it was often the siblings who the young man turned to when in despair from his monsters.

As sad as this situation is, the family will recover. I have no idea if the mental illnesses were the same, but the trauma scenario was definitely similar. My friends are dealing with his death, remembering the good times, remembering the loving son who sadly passed so young, as any family grieves the death of a child dying before the parents. But, they are also no longer living in fear of what may happen. The worst has happened and they are getting over it. Their lives are no longer shadowed by constant worry. They will never forget their son or get over the way in which his life ended. But their peace of mind has returned. They have recovered in part knowing that their family will never have to go through some of the things they have had to in the past. They have all changed as a result of the trauma of his attempts and his death, but they are also ready for the next stage of their lives and whatever the future may hold.

I do offer my sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Raff, and offer them the hope that the future will no longer be so dark as the recent years.


41 people like this
Posted by Let the police do their job
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

OK, let's see....
1. Man calls police with a lie, luring them to come over to his building.
2. When police arrive, trying to help someone they believe might be in danger, this guy ambushes them with a knife.
3. Police defend themselves.

Um...I don't understand the debate here. What are they supposed to do? Talk about his feelings while getting stabbed?

Why do you denigrate the people who protect you, who patrol the streets at night while your family sleeps safely in your homes?


16 people like this
Posted by Wife of M.D.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm

I find it humorous that for an intellectual community, there is so much ignorance and acceptance of stereotypes. I guess all the intellectuals feel invincible because of their analytical skills. Just because they deal with rational people in their everyday life in a bubble, they cannot accept any outside behavior different from their own. Violent behavior doesn't exist, right? The next time they feel scared, why not fight the intruder on their own instead of calling the police, who will use excessive force to protect them by telling them to leave the area so they can handle it. "No, officer, I really think I can rationalize with this person and talk them out of doing the wrong thing. And after I get hurt, I'll sue you for not protecting me."

My thoughts are with the involved officers and the parents of William Raff. For those of you who don't realize it, this is traumatizing for the officers too.


2 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm

[Post removed.]


31 people like this
Posted by Neighborhood Safety
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Palo Alto is still a mostly suburban city. There are children in most of the neighborhoods, as well as places children are often found, such as neighborhood parks and schools.

So why is this La Selva group home for the mentally ill in such a neighborhood? There are laws regarding the suitable placement of such facilities, and this is an obvious violation: residential neighborhood complete with children, schools, parks.

They need to follow the law and move to a non-residential area.

What is this had happened during daylight hours and children had gotten caught in the crossfire!


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:53 pm

From the latest Police report, some more information and I suggest everyone reads it before commenting further.

We have butter knives in our home, none of which are 9 inches long and have a part serrated edge.

From the police report, it appears to me that most of what many people here are posting is pure guesswork. Please read the report before maligning our police.


1 person likes this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 2:59 pm

>> Posted by Bob March
>> Seems a little premature to accept the "butter knife" story, Resident, and to
>> leap to the conclusion that the police should be disarmed. You've seen no
>> video, heard no audio, evaluated no witnesses. Neither have any of us.
>> Wait for the facts.

Both sides here have a point, it's nice to say wait for the facts, but in many
of these stories the facts do not come out. Often the longer we wait for facts
the more time it gives institutions where is there a problem time to cover it up.
It is hard to believe how much video goes missing, or how often cameras are
not turned on.

I don't see any evidence of these problems in Palo Alto, but there is a strong
propaganda system in place to bolster the "establishment's" point of view,
especially here. From what I have heard of this story I don't like it, and I don't
think this is the way Palo Alto Police ought to react.

[Portion removed.]

I almost hate to ask ... do we know the race of the victim at this point? Was
the victim really large, scary looking of muscular? How about a picture, or
do we have to wait for the Palo Alto Patch to post one?

I also disagree with the inclusion of the phrase, the conclusion, "suicide by cop"
it is far more inflammatory than the inclusion of the word NIMBY which has
been edited out in my PAO comment sections.

Police have the right to defend themselves, but these cases that make it to the
news and get questioned are cases where the line is so thin it often seems
to expose a eagerness towards deadly force as an excuse, not a necessity.


9 people like this
Posted by GW
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm

The claim Raff had a "butter knife" was originally reported in the Mercury News (Web Link). They attributed it to an anonymous source. Today, the police said the knife was actually 9 inches long, had a serrated edge and a pointed tip.

Maybe the police are lying, but I don't think so. I think the Merc got hosed but its source. [Portion removed.]

Sadly, while the butter knife claim is wrong, it will probably live for many more years on Palo Alto Online. (I'm sure the censor is going to take that down, so save this as a screen shot.)


7 people like this
Posted by Cedric
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Police are not mental faculty. The problem happened long before the police arrived.

Why was this man allowed access to knives or call the police?


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 29, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I have a long list of countries in which a mentally ill man, standing on the street and brandishing a knife, would have been disarmed, even if it took several hours, and not shot to death. Unfortunately, the list of counties where such a person would be likely shot to death is a list the USA should be ashamed to be on, but tragically, it is.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 3:51 pm

The description of the knife is consistent with a bread knife.


2 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Way excessive force, no doubt about it from where I sit. Why, any of us on this thread could have easily talked this guy into surrendering in a few seconds if the police had only called on us for advice and assistance.


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 29, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Unfortunately, there is clear and persistent tradition in this country of police and district attorney departments circling the wagons in cases of police shooting and police brutality. Too often their conclusions are highly suspect and it's very rare for a cop to be indicted for killing or brutalizing a civilian:too much code of silence and circling the wagons.

As police departments go in the USA, the PAPD is not bad at all. It's probably one of the most benign police forces in the nation and the officers usually respect and do not violate civilians rights, but in the case of a shooting death, I wouldn't trust theirs, or the DA reports. I believe that every death caused by police should be investigated by an independent panel that includes retired judges, attorneys and civilians, not by the police or DA office.


16 people like this
Posted by fed up
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Can you people imagine what would happen to your precious Palo Alto if the police force was allowed to strike? They are the only people that keep your "bubble" from getting overrun with thugs and criminals. Just thank them for keeping you and your family safe in your million dollar fixer uppers and move on. Would it be okay if the guy had a steak knife? How about a hunting knife? If he had a gun then that's okay right? Why do cops have to justify not getting killed and be called cowards or bullies because they want to go home safely? I don't get you people.


4 people like this
Posted by j.r.r
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:36 pm

what ever happened to "PROTECT AND SERVE"?


2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:40 pm

@ mauricio - Please post your long list of countries where knife wielding assailants have been disarmed, and I will post examples, from those countries, of knife wielding assailants being shot by police.


7 people like this
Posted by Beaner
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 5:56 pm

If someone is brandishing a knife at you, then odds are you probably don't have a chance to see how sharp/dull it is. If it is coming at you straight on, then you don't know if it is pointy or not. All you see is a metallic, knife-sized object coming towards you.

Even if it is a curved point, it can still do plenty of damage on a normal person (no idea what sort of vests/clothing the officer was wearing; that might help). But in nineteen seconds, you're going to have to make a rash decision.

Would a taser help? Yes, perhaps. But tasers are new, and I wonder how many officers have been taught to reach for the taser instead of the gun. If you've been an officer for more than ten years, odds are you were taught to reach for the gun, and supplemental seminars aren't going to do years of training immediately.

Tragic? Yes. RIP.


7 people like this
Posted by C'mon
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:00 pm

@ fed up

C'mon, the "thin blue line" [between anarchy/chaos and civilization] is for the movies.

What people are sensing is that something's wrong when at least 3 cops from a well-funded/equipped/trained department in a quiet suburban town face 1 disturbed person with a knife in open terrain, and it's claimed that shooting the disturbed person dead was the reasonable police defense.


12 people like this
Posted by Just the facts and a little self-restraint, please.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Please stop. No one has enough information to be drawing conclusions yet. I am sorry for the young man and his family. I am sorry for the officers who were called to the scene and had to make fast decisions. This is a tragic incident for everyone involved. STOP the sloppy psychology, judgments and 20/20 hindsight in a public forum. It is irresponsible when NO ONE on this thread has all of the facts.

Please be a good citizen and exercise some thoughtful self-restraint in your comments. Remember that you are in a public forum and we are talking about PEOPLE who have been affected by a terrible tragedy.


7 people like this
Posted by Can't believe it
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:10 pm

From what we know, at this point (see the police report), it looks like a tragedy that was bound to happen.

Everybody on this blog is exercising their knowledge of laws, mental disorders, or common sense, as they understand it. However, the problem was there long before the police arrived at the scene. It sounds like they were protecting the community and had the legal right and duty to do so.

Why no one here asks the question: how come the man with schizo... whatever problem was allowed to leave the facility? Why don't you question the actions, or lack of such, of the mental care providers?

The cops had to clean their mess, unfortunately.


5 people like this
Posted by laywer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Officers need more training in the use of tasers and non-lethal means of stopping a non-firearms assailant.

I call on Dennis Burns to release the body cameras and car cameras. If PAPD do not wear body cams then post this incident they should.


16 people like this
Posted by Kurt
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:16 pm

It's obvious that no one writing here has ever served as a police officer - except me. The suggestions that police could shoot someone's arm during a rapidly escalating, violent encounter involving someone with a knife shows a shocking level of ignorance regarding both police procedures and reality. Having been involved in several violent encounters with mentally ill people, I can assure everyone here that it is impossible to discern the sharpness of a knife blade that is being swung or carried - especially at night - and that no human being has the aiming ability to shoot an arm or a leg of a quickly advancing person. That simply is not possible, no matter how anyone may wish it to be true.

With regard to the choice of a weapon, when lethal force / weaponry is being threatened, a police officer has the absolute right to defend their life with lethal force. That is not the purpose of a Taser.

The investigation will reveal all the facts, but from what has been written, this is a justified, albeit tragic, shooting.


5 people like this
Posted by Lex
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:44 pm

@ Kirk

A police officer has no "absolute right" to use lethal force. See the law I cited above in a comment. [1] AND [2] AND [3] must be the case. Reasonableness in [1]-[3], inclusive, is objective, not subjective.

If you are or have been a police officer, your misunderstanding of an "absolute right" to use lethal force is even more disturbing...


5 people like this
Posted by This is getting ridiculous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 29, 2015 at 6:51 pm

So this article brings out angry responses from people disapproving of our police officers defending their lives against a knife attacker.

Another article talks about the city wanting to force businesses to compost.

Just two more reasons why I hate Palo Alto. I can't leave this place at the moment, because of my job and family. Why do other people, who have a choice, stay in an overrated and overpriced place like this?


3 people like this
Posted by Kurt
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:18 pm

@Lex - Your opinion of the law is not important or considered when someone is rushing a police officer with a knife. No one cares at that point what you think or how outraged your are. No one. Police have the right to not be murdered. That's a fact, whether you believe it or not.


9 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:20 pm

"If someone is brandishing a knife at you, then odds are you probably don't have a chance to see how sharp/dull it is. If it is coming at you straight on, then you don't know if it is pointy or not. All you see is a metallic, knife-sized object coming towards you."

Lay off the reality. This is the Blogosphere.


3 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:33 pm

"Why do other people, who have a choice, stay in an overrated and overpriced place like this?"

Well, rampant affluenza beats rampaging Republicanism any day.

But seriously, this blog should not be taken seriously. The people I meet on my daily rounds are much smarter than this blog would indicate.

To agree with you, the worrisome thing is that, because PA has no real newspaper anymore, historians will likely mistake this blog as a reflection of the town's true intellectual temperature. They might never know that most people who have sampled it thenceforth ignore it.


9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:41 pm

It sounds like there is both audio and video recording of the incident. Plus there are three eye witnesses:

Web Link

If you read the story and consider that there are three eye witnesses, it is reasonable to expect that the limited information provided would be fairly accurate.

It sounds like only 1 officer had a taser....the suspect charged at an officer who did not have a taser or any other self-defense device. If you've got some raving guy within 10 feet of you...running at you with a knife with the apparent intent of using it against you, what exactly do you think he should have done? Just let the guy attack him and/or stab him? Take one for the team? Honestly, I wonder what fantasy world some people live in.


2 people like this
Posted by Louise
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 29, 2015 at 7:56 pm

I don't want to judge anyone, but it's unfortunate that the officers didn't take a step back and de-escalate this situation. Things might have been different if the officers meditated a moment before getting out of their cars. A few moments of thoughtful introspection might have lifted attitudes to a more healthful, peaceful place.


9 people like this
Posted by Kurt
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2015 at 8:29 pm

@ Louise - If you don't want to judge anyone (presumably the police officers involved with this) why did you do just that? After spending a career in law enforcement, I was never able to meditate or sit in my cruiser to spend time in thoughtful introspection when someone with a weapon was running at me.

People here obviously need a serious reality check.


4 people like this
Posted by MRM
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm

I agree that law enforcement should be required to take courses about mental illness and be educated on how to diffuse a heightened situation that involves a mentally ill individual. An officer did not have to fatally shoot an individual who is armed with a knife. Shooting a foot, and arm, or a leg would have been the mose sensible option if a taser was not available. My condolences to the family.


4 people like this
Posted by Lex
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm

@ Kurt and anyone having the (false) notion that police have an absolute right to use deadly force:

The law that I cited above in the form of a Calif. jury instruction, which you say is "not important or considered" [in the field], springs from our U.S. Constitution. In particular, the 4th Amendment.

If indeed you are or were a police officer, do you recall swearing to "support and defend" and "bear true faith and allegiance" to the U.S. Constitution? This is in the Peace Officer Oath of Office required in the California Constitution.

True faith and allegiance doesn't square with "not important or considered."

I look forward to the DA's analysis and presentation of evidence. The DA is charged with doing justice. Let's trust he/she better recalls his/her oath.


5 people like this
Posted by Kurt
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:51 pm

@ Lex - Police may use force, up to and including lethal force, to protect themselves. I don't care if you don't believe that.


9 people like this
Posted by Sheila E.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Louise: Read the Press Release before jumping to conclusions. The officers did try to stop the suspect before using force:

"Three officers arrived on scene and began walking towards the front lawn of the residence. The suspect emerged from the shadows in front of the home while brandishing a knife in his hand and jumping around erratically. The officers immediately called for emergency back-up while retreating from the property, and gave the suspect multiple commands to drop the knife as they backed up. As the officers further retreated to the street, one officer requested an emergency response from any unit equipped with a particular less-lethal weapon that fires a hard rubber munition.

As the officers continued retreating towards their police cars, the suspect moved to the middle of the street and continued jumping around erratically while waving the knife. Officers continued to repeat their commands to drop the knife, but the suspect ignored them. The suspect then suddenly sprinted directly at the officers while screaming and waving the knife. As the suspect closed in on them, one officer fired a Taser and two officers fired their pistols as he charged. The suspect got close enough to them that one officer who fired his pistol had to move to avoid being struck by the falling suspect.

From the time the suspect initially confronted the officers to the time he charged them and was shot, about 19 seconds elapsed."

MRM: Mentally ill people can be equally dangerous as a person strung-out on drugs and should be treated as such if their behavior warrants it.

Kurt: It's useless; there is no cure for dumb.


5 people like this
Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 29, 2015 at 11:06 pm

This is so sad. I have heard other parents speak of the frustration with not getting information about their children's mental health. There needs to be some change in that law. Regarding the police, I have thought for some time that American police need to be trained by British police on how they handle their jobs without guns. I'm not saying our police should be disarmed, because in contrast to the UK, our populace is heavily armed. Or, police departments here need to bring some British consultants over for training in disarming people, diffusing situations. Don't police know any self-defense tactics any more? if ever.


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 6:03 am

Please educate us on what self-defense tactic a police officer should use when an assailant is running directly towards you with a knife. Do you actually expect the officer to engage and wrestle the guy? Risk fatal injury? The officers had already retreated and had requested back up with non-lethal weapons. The assailant charged them and only 1 officer had a taser. If you read the report, it sounds like the assailant was charging straight at an officer who's only available defense mechanism was his gun. Stop blaming the officer for using the only thing he had to defend himself. It s not like the police didn't attempt to bring in suitable support. The assailant gave them no choice.


Like this comment
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2015 at 7:10 am

@Mr Recycle, all western Europe and Scandinavian countries, for a start. Anything else I can do to enlighten you


8 people like this
Posted by Good job
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2015 at 7:24 am

Great job Papd for quickly disseminating information to the public. To the deceadant's parents: I'm sorry for your loss. To the officers: keep your heads up. You had no choice.


Like this comment
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:51 am

Why did the officers need to request "an emergency response from a police unit that is equipped with a weapon that can shoot rubber bullets"? Why were they not already equipped with such a weapon?


Like this comment
Posted by cabosmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2015 at 9:46 am

@Lex - I grew up in Palo Alto (went to Crescent Park Elementary..when it was still there) so news of this shooting has gotten my attention. Very tragic and sad. I hear PA police all have audio and video and all new police cars have like 5 cameras so there should be lots of video evidence of this shooting. I hope it is all released soon.

Meanwhile, @Kurt, I presume you will think this shooting last April 2015 in San Diego was 'justified?' It clearly isn't regardless of how hard our DA tries to make it so. This is why we need PA video released asap, so we can get to the truth. @Leo, Please pressure the DA/courts to have 'Raff' footage released before 8 long months go by giving DA time to manipulate the truth into what they want the public to believe...as in Fridoon Nehad's case: Web Link

Web Link
Thankfully, in CA as of Jan 1, 2016, Grand Juries (a tool of the DA) can no longer 'inquire into an offense that involves a shooting or use of excessive force by a peace officer described in Section 830.1, subdivision (a) of Section 830.2, or Section 830.39, that led to the death of a person being detained or arrested by the peace officer pursuant to Section 836.'

but when DAs can, at their own whim, choose to not indict we have a problem. Why not have ALL excessive force, shootings by police automatically tried in a court of law, no matter what. Let the people decide.


Like this comment
Posted by Kurt
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 30, 2015 at 10:14 am

@ cabosmom - Then you would presume incorrectly. I wrote nothing about a shooting in San Diego, so I have no idea why you would make up something like that.


3 people like this
Posted by Stretch
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Those who would disarm the police must not be aware of a society ruled by the NRA. What would the police do when confronted by those people who are merely using their "2nd amendment rights", (We won't even go into their faulty interpretation of that amendment).

I wonder why, with all the mentally ill on the streets today, all police do not carry non-lethal weapons (bean bags, teasers, rubber bullets). Plus, they should all be trained in the use of all of them. Saying that the police could have shot in a non- lethal place on the body doesn't take in the urgency of the situation, the lack of time needed to assimilate and act. Self-protection is paramount, along with the need to protect the public. The fact that this call was from a group home might have given the police reason for using non-lethal weapons on a probably disturbed person.

I feel badly for the family, and for the police who felt it necessary to use lethal force. I believe that the police did what they felt they had to in a moment of danger. I know it can't be easy to decide.


Like this comment
Posted by Charlotte
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 30, 2015 at 2:55 pm

I live in mtn view. The collective American psyche is a violent one. Shooting someone who has no gun is one solution: compassionless.


3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm

When are we going admit that our society is addicted to violence, that violence in it various forms is galamorized and that cops are not immune from this addiction?


8 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2015 at 5:47 pm

"Shooting a foot, and arm, or a leg would have been the mose sensible option if a taser was not available."

Why didn't they shoot the knife right out of his hand? I seen them do that on TV alot. Palo Alto should hire those cops instead of the ones it got.


6 people like this
Posted by Ann Morris
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:45 pm

I met William the afternoon before he was killed, we chatted and I told him how pleased I was that he was my grandsons roommate, he was a mild mannered young man. I can't believe what happened. Why couldn't the police subdue him as he was no more than 150 pounds and knowing that this was a treatment center for the mentally ill. I wish more people are aware of the traumatic treatments that these patients have to deal with. The side affects of the medications they have to take are an ordeal.(William had a seizure a few days before as a result of his medication)These are young men often talented who as a result of the medications feel like zombies and are unable to achieve the goals in life for which they have hoped and feel defeated and hopeless. My heartfelt condolences to Williams parents.


3 people like this
Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2015 at 8:53 pm

"it's unfortunate that the officers didn't take a step back and de-escalate this situation. Things might have been different if the officers meditated a moment before getting out of their cars. A few moments of thoughtful introspection might have lifted attitudes to a more healthful, peaceful place."

Are people in Palo Alto this naive? Really?

The next time an armed, mentally-ill person goes berserk, don't call the police, call the Hare Krishnas.


4 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2016 at 6:24 pm

I am increasingly convinced that training is a necessity, not for police, but by police and administators to educate the masses on what it is really like to continually put your life at risk in highly dymanic crime investigations.


2 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Paul, releasing the video would probably do that, don't you think ?


3 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2016 at 9:12 pm

It is not unreasonable, worthy of contempt, ridicule or sarcasm - to question
what happened when someone dies - PERIOD. When I look at someone who
may be a little clueless in criticizing the police compared to someone who
flings around sarcasm and contempt, I know a little education will help them,
but the other one is likely going to always be disruptive to the discussion.

Some of the Palo Alto Police I have talked to could take out a 150 pound man
pretty quick if they had to, so let's see what happened. please PAPD.

When I looked at the Google street view, there are not too many bushes near
the street to jump out of.

I don't think it should be a crime or even a firing offense for police to be either
unready or untrained for a situation like this, that is how they improve police
training, but being honest should be the core virtue of law enforcement,
especially these days.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

@PlaneSpeaker:
Truth, Justice and the American Way...it was good enough for Superman and it's good enough for me. Sadly, our police are not 'Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!'.

Video is a reasonable tool that is here to stay despite lawyers and others who use it for Hollywood versions of the truth. I'm suggesting that a substantial portion of city and police budget go toward community education and outreach, nationwide, not just here in PA. If policing was everyone's job, rather than a dirty job for a few, crime rates would drop as would frivolous law suits.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, 'Ask not what your police department can do for you, ask what you can do for your community and police department'.


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

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