I Lost My Son That Night

For several years, I have measured my words, constantly self-protecting because of my family’s suit against the Santa Rosa police who killed my son, Richard DeSantis. It took five years to at last have our day in court. Five years of hopes dashed and repeated spells of sinking back into depression. All the while, in the mental health field, so much progress was being made, so many beautiful recovery options from which Richard will never benefit.

Over the course of our three-week trial, I got what I needed—to face all six officers who responded that night, hear their explanations and have them hear who Richard was to us. Along with this, we endured the other price that families pay—the villainization of the victim.

I wondered what it was like for Richard to willingly relinquish his protection, only to face alone six uniformed police training their weapons on him. In the past, when he heard voices the rest of us did not hear, just a little reassurance let him know he had help, and he came along to receive that help. If only it hadn’t happened the way it did that night, if only his last moments weren’t spent that way, I could rest easier at night. It’s hard for a mother to erase that image, those sounds.

As the verdict was about to be read in court, we braced ourselves. It’s a tall hurdle to overcome, the bias that police are always justified in their actions. The crisis on April 9 was an opportunity for everyone. The police could have used their training to help a man in mental distress. When they arrived, there was no longer any danger. Even after the approach they chose amped him up again, they were well equipped with “less lethal” options. In the aftermath, had Richard survived this encounter, he could have worked through the trauma at the heart of his fears and recovered.

We have all learned from this. It is imperative that we learn and become more compassionate people. I am so grateful to the jury for the job they did. All of Richard’s life I wanted him to have the kind of strong, male support he finally got in our lawyers, John Burris, Ben Nisenbaum, John Houston Scott and Eric Safire. By bringing this suit, we have reminded the police that all lives have value. In allowing officers to use deadly force, we must examine that use, or else there can be misuse of power unchecked. Without honestly naming it and correcting it, the tension between communities and their police may continue to grow.

Adrianne DeSantis is the mother of Richard DeSantis, who was killed by Santa Rosa police in 2007.

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