News


Report: Police shooting that killed Palo Alto teacher placed officers in 'remarkably dangerous' situation

Man's wife disputes district attorney's findings, says situation was 'inadequately managed'

A San Mateo County District Attorney's investigation has cleared Redwood City police officers who fatally shot a Palo Alto teacher in the yard of his home in December.

But while the officers have been absolved of culpability by the district attorney's investigation, Kyle Hart's wife disputed the findings on Wednesday. In a post on the GoFundMe fundraiser page for Hart and his family, she characterized the situation as "inadequately managed" and called for Redwood City to expand nonlethal options for police and to review the agency's protocols. Hart's death was the fourth officer-involved death in the city since 2017, she noted. (The DA's office said there were three deaths by Taser and this shooting.)

Hart, 33, was a teacher at Frank S. Greene Middle School in Palo Alto, where he taught English and social studies for three years. He was also a teacher at JLS Middle School four years earlier, according to the Palo Alto Unified School District.

On Dec. 10, 2018, at 8:45 a.m. police responded to a 911 call made by Hart's wife, Kristin Hart, who said that her husband was attempting suicide with a knife.

According to a summary report to Redwood City police Chief Dan Mulholland publicly released by District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe on Wednesday, officers Roman Gomez and Leila Velez found Hart self-injured in his backyard and standing atop a dirt mound and holding a large knife. Gomez instructed Velez to unholster her Taser, a generally nonlethal weapon, while he took out his service revolver. They tried to get Hart to drop the knife, but Hart rushed toward them from about 37 feet away.

Velez discharged her Taser when Hart was about 15 feet away. One of the probes missed Hart, making the Taser charge ineffective. Gomez fired his weapon five times when Hart was 6 to 8 feet away, striking Hart three times.

Gomez told investigators he did not have time to transition to a non-lethal weapon; there was no time to retreat since the area behind him was confined and muddy from recent rain. He thought Hart "was going to try and hit me with the knife or strike me with the knife," he said. There "was no time for an exchange of words or really talk to him or back (away) from him."

Velez reported "shots fired" at 8:50 a.m., approximately 43 seconds after the officers reported they had arrived at the home, according to a police dispatch log. Velez began performing life-saving measures.

Velez corroborated Gomez's version of events, according to Wagstaffe's report.

Paramedics who arrived transported Hart to Stanford Hospital, where he died at 9:37 a.m.

Kristin Hart told inspectors her husband never before indicated a desire to hurt himself. He had been under medical care for many years for anxiety and took medication.

An autopsy by San Mateo County pathologist Dr. Thomas Rogers did not find any alcohol or drugs in Hart's system. Rogers determined the cause of death as "multiple gunshot wounds."

In finding the officers had not erred in the shooting, Wagstaffe said the district attorney's office looked carefully at case law and court determinations regarding justified use of lethal force. The officers' actions were "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them.

"This was a remarkably dangerous situation, and both officers repeatedly demanded that Mr. Hart drop the knife," he said.

The circumstances compelled both officers to make split second decisions involving Hart, their own safety and potentially the safety of others. Faced with the threat of imminent injury or death, the resort to lethal force was reasonable and appropriate, he said.

"The death of Mr. Hart is a tragic outcome for his family and the community, but it is my belief that both officers conducted themselves in a professional, reasonable and proper manner and to the last moment sought to avoid the very result caused by the conduct of Mr. Hart," Wagstaffe wrote.

Hart's wife, however, disagreed with the conclusion in her GoFundMe post, saying she, her and her husband's families and their community continue to grieve her late husband and are further saddened to learn that his cause of death was "homicide due to gunshot wounds inflicted by the RWC PD."

Upon arrival, the two officers "aggressively verbally confronted Kyle with raised guns, which caused him to move. ... While the use of lethal force was deemed justified by the DA, the inadequacy of scene management and accessibility of other de-escalation options and equipment must be addressed," she wrote.

The gunshots were fired within a minute of police arriving. Officers did not attempt to de-escalate the situation and didn't wait for the beanbag shotgun that arrived two minutes later, she noted.

"It is not reasonable that state-of-the-art equipment (body cams and other non-lethal tools) are not readily available to all officers. ... We believe that it is time that our city invest to improve and make readily available updated tasers, body cams, bean bag shotguns in every car, and review protocols related to scene management (during and after incidents) to protect and serve the citizens of this community."

She added in a second post that Hart's caregivers believe he had an adverse reaction to the higher dose of his anti-anxiety medication, which she said is relatively rare.

Wagstaffe declined comment and Mulholland did not respond to a request. Wagstaffe said in his summary that the complete investigative report, other than materials that are legally protected and not subject to disclosure, will be made available to the public.

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Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

The link below provides more resources where one can receive help:

Resources: How to help those in crisis

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Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Heidi (Kling) Reicherter
a resident of Nixon School
on Mar 20, 2019 at 8:40 pm

The story of Mr. Hart's death is heartbreaking, but to describe it in such detail does a disservice to his surviving family, and the legions of students he worked with in PAUSD and to his children when they google him one day.

I understand this is a 'crime' story, but it's also about suicide. A story with this much gore and detail can cause more upset for the community and the already suffering family, and as I understand it, is not correctly reported in those terms, anyway. The way it's written now makes it sound like an ordinary, happy man woke up one day and sliced himself up for no reason. That's not how these things happen.

Palo Alto, as we know, is no stranger to suicidal deaths and we have to be so careful about how stories are worded and presented.

Check: Web Link

Please consider an edit and/or a retraction before the family reads this.


20 people like this
Posted by District Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2019 at 9:06 pm

Thank you, Heidi. This is re-traumatizing. Also, considering that Mr. Hart's family specifically requested privacy and *dignity,* this 'article' is offensive in its focus on gruesome details.


5 people like this
Posted by Backfired
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2019 at 9:24 pm

[Post removed.]


48 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2019 at 12:34 am

iSez is a registered user.

Relatives often blame law enforcement, as if their lives are less important than the public or even the lives of felons. They tend to think that law enforcement officers' lives can be lost because they chose the career. If a person is running towards you with a knife, there is no other option but to stop him. How can a rubber gun stop him? Realize that this policeman's life is forever changed too; surely he has replayed it in his mind for hundreds of times. The question is, whose life is more important? Law enforcement is here to protect the public and should be allowed to protect themselves too.


Like this comment
Posted by Julie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2019 at 1:44 am

Julie is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


23 people like this
Posted by Jordan Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 21, 2019 at 7:19 am

Jordan Parent is a registered user.

What a shame! The shots were fired within a minute after they arrived. They were called by Mr. Heart's wife to SAVE him, not to kill. Any attempts to calm him down, to distract, to aim at a leg, etc? The entire law enforcement should be re-trained.

And after the shooting, they had a useless meeting for the PAUSD parents - do you realize that from now on, all parents with kids in crisis, won't be calling the law enforcement.


10 people like this
Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2019 at 1:44 pm

PST is a registered user.

Indeed very tragic all around. The problem is these officers simply did what they are trained to do in our country. Once you draw your weapon shoot to kill. While increasingly more and more officers are receiving valuable Crisis Intervention Training, they are not properly trained nor do they have the tools for deescalation. This aspect of crisis management is woefully absent leading to police shootings, community distrust, officers traumatized for life and anyone knowing the victim traumatized for life as well. I know we can do better. Just look at the creative and successful things done in many other countries. Time for change to stop this from happening!


16 people like this
Posted by Alvin
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 21, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

Nobody is saying Police lives can be lost or arguing which life is more important, so please stop with the straw man. I have a real problem with what we were told back in December and how the situation was handled - though I wish we could have heard more from Ms. Hart.

Back in December, the reports from the police side said these officers were experienced in handling these type of crisis interventions. It sure doesn't sound that way: Upon arrival, the two officers "aggressively verbally confronted Kyle with raised guns..." I have zero training in this area, but my experience as a husband, father, and son counsels against that kind of approach, to say the least. How about something like: "everything's going to be okay, Kyle, we're here to help you, it's not worth it...you have a beautiful family, great career, new home...please put the knives down so nobody gets hurt. You want to see those cute little girls grow up...they're going to need a father..." That's how I would have tried first to defuse the situation - by talking like a sincere human being trying to save lives - not pulling out my gun and yelling or cursing at the man. That's the last thing you want to do in that type of situation.

Few other comments. Ms Hart mentioned how the police officers on the scene could have waited for the non-lethal weapon to arrive. Hate to break it to you, but police in this country do not wait. Second, the report goes on to justify the police actions due to threat of imminent injury or death. I'd like to ask the DA's office the following question. When was the last time a police officer was killed or seriously injured from a knife? I've never heard of that before. Finally, the comment directly above about the need for police training in deescalation. Great idea. How about also hiring and training officers to look and act more like regular humans? I really feel like I can't relate to any cop. That I can't come up and just have a normal conversation and maybe share a cigarette with the officer. They seem more foreign to me than the illegals that are in our country. The illegals I don't fear.


30 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2019 at 10:04 pm

iSez is a registered user.

Everyone is a Monday Morning Quarterback. Usually when a person has guns pointed at them, they listen to the cops and stop what they are doing. [Portion removed.] What an ignorant, disrespectful statement: "When was the last time a police officer was killed or seriously injured from a knife?" You book smart people amaze me. Right, it's okay that the cop is injured? Obviously this poster has never fired a gun because you can't shoot to hit a leg! Could you approach that situation without your heart racing? Police are only human, not invincible. [Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Jordan Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 22, 2019 at 7:07 am

Jordan Parent is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


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

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