The federal wrongful death case against the city of Napa over the police-involved shooting of Richard Poccia in November 2010 near his house in Alta Heights is moving forward in federal court.
A jury trial is scheduled for February 2014 in federal court in Oakland, according to federal records. The family’s lawsuit, which names the city, police Officers Brad Baker and Nick Dalessi, and, more recently, police Sgt. Amy Hunter, stems from the fatal shooting of Poccia, 60, on Nov. 28, 2010, on the 1400 block of Meek Avenue.
In their suit, Poccia’s widow, Samanda Dorger, and his daughter, Gabrielle Poccia, allege police used excessive force. The case was initially filed on Jan. 27, 2012. An amended complaint filed Dec. 21 added Hunter as a defendant.
In its most recent response, the city, which is asking that the plaintiffs pay its legal costs, denied all the allegations. The city admitted that lethal force was used, but denied Dalessi and Baker acted “without legal cause or excuse,” according to the city’s response to the Dec. 21 complaint.
In February 2011, the Napa County District Attorney’s Office ruled that the police shooting was justified. Authorities said Dalessi shot Poccia because he believed the resident was reaching for a weapon, while simultaneously Baker deployed his Taser.
Poccia was carrying a pocket knife on his person when he was shot, according to the city court filing.
In adding Sgt. Hunter to the suit, Poccia’s family contends that her involvement ultimately made a tense situation worse.
“Sergeant Hunter promised decedent that he would not be arrested, emphasized that the Napa Police just wanted to make sure he was all right, and that there would be no surprises,” according to the amended complaint.
“Sgt. Hunter nevertheless contravened her promise, and put into place a strategy for aggressively confronting decedent, despite her knowledge that he was in a state of mental health distress. Based on the plan Sgt. Hunter developed and instigated, Napa police officers subsequently mounted a full-scale SWAT-style action.
“Among the officers who approached Mr. Poccia’s home were defendants Dalessi and Baker. Sergeant Hunter was not immediately present at the scene and, despite being a designated crisis negotiator for the Police Department, she ceded direct in-person communication with decedent to Officer Heath Morrison, a member of the Department’s SWAT unit.”
Poccia was compliant, the complaint said. “He came out of his house listening to the officers’ instructions to take off his hat, put his hands up, and turn around in a circle multiple times to show that he had no weapons. He was instructed to exit his home, proceed down Meek Avenue, and walk backwards onto East Spring Street. At no point in the course of his unlawful detention did Poccia fail to comply with these orders,” the complaint stated.
Police officers pointed weapons at Poccia, “screamed confusing and contradictory instructions, and escalated the volatility of the situation they created” before the officers fired “without legal cause or excuse,” the complaint alleged.
Poccia was already handcuffed when officer Baker fired his Taser and officer Dalessi an AR15 high-velocity assault rifle, according to the court filing. Dalessi fired from “just 8 feet, causing immediate fatal injury,” the complaint states.
Napa City Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said this week the case is in its early stages. “It’s hard to know how many depositions will be taken,” he said.
“The evidence obtained so far strongly supports the (district attorney’s) conclusion that Mr. Poccia’s death was a lawful response to ‘an immediate and serious threat of death or great bodily harm’ caused by Mr. Poccia suddenly grabbing for a weapon in his waistband,” Troendly said in an email. “Mr. Poccia’s death was tragic, but the City is defending the lawsuit vigorously because the evidence shows its officers acted lawfully, and pursuant to their training.”
So far, the city has spent $69,000 on attorney fees and related costs, he said. The next hearing on the case is Feb. 25.