The Napa County Sheriff’s Office responded to a Napa Valley Register public information request by releasing more details from its investigation of the fatal police shooting of Richard Poccia in front of his Alta Heights home last November.
The sheriff’s office paints a portrait of a man who was armed, drinking alcohol and threatening to hurt himself or others the weekend that Napa police came to his home.
Two days before he was shot, Poccia had asked his wife to kill him with a gun, according to the two-page document from the Sheriff’s Office, the agency that investigated the Nov. 28 shooting.
Police intervened after his wife, Samanda Dorger, told a police sergeant that her husband would likely be armed with a .22-caliber handgun if he left his Meek Avenue home to buy more alcohol, the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s investigation was turned over to the Napa County district attorney’s office, which concluded that the killing was justified because Napa police Officer Nicholas Dalessi had shot Poccia in self-defense.
Poccia’s family, including Dorger, is disputing this finding, saying that police overreacted when dealing with a man in psychological distress. The family filed a claim against the city, a prelude to a likely lawsuit.
The shooting occurred shortly after 3 p.m. on Nov. 28 as police were maneuvering Poccia out of his home so he could be taken into protective custody.
Before this encounter, a doctor and friend of Poccia had told police that Poccia, a nurse, was “paranoid” and a “danger to himself and others,” the sheriff’s department said.
Police had also been told that Poccia had asked his wife to kill him with a gun two days earlier, about the time that he had allegedly fired a gun inside his home, the sheriff’s office said.
According to the sheriff’s office, Poccia had made “conditional threats that if police or paramedics were called to his home, it would end badly for them; either they would be killed, he would be killed, or they would both be killed.”
On the day of the shooting, Napa Police Sgt. Amy Hunter reached Poccia by phone. “Mr. Poccia told her he was not suicidal and was willing to exit his home and speak with her/officers,” the sheriff’s office said.
Hunter also talked to Dorger, who said she had spoken with Poccia on the telephone. “Mr. Poccia told Ms. Dorger that he was drinking alcohol and had run out and that if she did not go get some for him, he was going to go out and get it himself,” the sheriff’s statement said.
“Ms. Dorger told Sgt. Hunter she believed if Mr. Poccia went out to get alcohol, that he would be armed, probably with his .22 handgun.”
According to the sheriff’s notes, the four Napa police officers, including Dalessi, were assigned to take Poccia into custody. Knowing that Poccia had “numerous firearms” and had martial arts training and had “made conditional threats toward officers,” the officers had “prepared for varying levels of force,” the report said.
“Sgt. Hunter made contact with Mr. Poccia for him to exit his house. When Poccia exited his home he became confrontational with the officers,” the documents said.
One of the officers tried to calm Poccia, the report continues, but Poccia did not respond. He “ultimately positioned himself in a fighting stance toward the officers, as he backed away from them. One of the officers told Poccia to ‘listen to his commands’ and that ‘the situation was very important and dangerous,’ the document said.
Poccia made a comment and “suddenly turned his body and reached into his waistband in an aggressive and obvious manner,” the report said. The officers believed Poccia was arming himself with a weapon, investigators said.
One of the officers, Brad Baker, who eventually Tasered Poccia, reported he saw “a butt of a knife,” according to the document. Dalessi, the report said, believed it was the butt of a gun.
As a third officer, holstered his weapon, Baker had a Taser in his hand and Dalessi had his AR 15 rifle “in the low-ready position,” the report said. A fourth officer had his rifle slung to his chest in an attempt to calm Poccia down, the document said.
When Poccia reportedly reached into his waistband, “Officer Baker deployed his Taser and saw the darts strike Mr. Poccia in the upper torso. At the same time, Dalessi pointed his rifle at the upper center mass of Mr. Poccia, bent down to his right and fired a single shot from his rifle, striking Mr. Poccia in the head.”
“Mr. Poccia died at the scene form a single gunshot wound,” the Sheriff’s report said. “A folding knife was recovered at the scene near Mr. Poccia’s body,” according to authorities.
Poccia’s wife and attorney have said publicly that police overreacted the day of the shooting.
On Tuesday, an attorney for the family, Matthew Davis of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Shoenberger in San Francisco, said police sent a “tremendous” response even though no crime had been committed. The document from the Sheriff’s Office, he said, contains no independent accounts from witnesses.
Officers were shouting contradictory orders at Poccia, Davis said.
Poccia’s family on Jan. 3 filed a claim against the city, a required step before a lawsuit can be filed. On Tuesday, Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said the city has not responded to the claim.
“Our plan is to file a lawsuit,” Davis said.
A few electronic messages between police officers on the day of the shooting were released this week to the Register. Napa Police Capt. Troendly said the city received no 9-1-1 or other calls from the public regarding Mr. Poccia or the Meek Avenue incident on Nov. 28.
Cell phones owned by the Police Department have been searched, he said in an e-mail. “If there were ever any relevant text or voice messages, which may or may not be the case, they are no longer retrievable,” he said.