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.
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: