The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday it will not file criminal charges against two officers involved in the fatal shooting of a Redwood City father late last year.
But the family of Kyle Hart said his death was preventable, and has called for change in law enforcement practices in the wake of four office-involved deaths in Redwood City in two years.
Hart, a 33-year-old married father of two young children, was fatally shot at his home in the 400 block of Lincoln Avenue on Dec. 10.
Police responded to the home about 8:50 a.m. after his wife called saying Hart was cutting himself with a large kitchen knife in an attempt to commit suicide, according to the DA’s investigation. Two Redwood City police officers, Roman Gomez and Leila Velez, arrived at the home and encountered Hart’s wife covered in blood in the front yard.
Hart’s wife pointed the officers in the direction of her husband toward the backyard. Gomez had Velez pull out a Taser gun, and he pulled out his firearm, the DA’s report states. The officers encountered a profusely bleeding Hart armed with a knife, standing about 37 feet away on a dirt pile. Hart “just stared” at Gomez when Gomez repeatedly asked him to drop the knife, the DA’s report states. Then at one point Hart raised his knife and charged down the dirt hill toward the officers, the report states.
When Hart was within 15 feet of the officers, Officer Velez discharged her Taser, striking him near his ear with only one of the two probes connecting. The Taser shot failed to provide an incapacitating charge, the report states.
When Hart was within 8 feet of the officers, Gomez fired five gunshots, striking Hart three times fatally. The officer believed there “was no time for an exchange of words ore really talk to him, or back [away] from him,” the DA’s report states.
Hart’s wife later told an investigator her husband of 13 years had never before indicated a desire to hurt himself and had been receiving longterm medical care and medication for anxiety. They had a normal life with a normal schedule previous to this incident, she said. His second child was born three days before the incident. The new arrival and the fixer upper home they had recently purchased increased Hart’s anxiety, she told the investigator. Still, Hart’s wife expressed shock and confusion when she walked in on her husband cutting himself in the kitchen that morning.
The DA’s investigation ultimately found that criminal charges against the officers for Hart’s killing were not warranted.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe “has concluded that the use of force by the two officers which resulted in the death of Mr. Hart was justifiable pursuant to California Penal Code section 196,” the report states.
In a subsequent statement, Hart’s family expressed dissatisfaction with the DA’s response:
“While our community and families continue to grieve the loss of our dear Kyle, we 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. He was shot [at] 5 times, three hit him. While the use of lethal force was deemed justified by the DA, the inadequacy of scene management and accessibility of other deescalation options and equipment must be addressed. Shots were fired within a minute of police arrival on scene, officers did not attempt to deescalate the situation or wait for the beanbag shotgun that arrived two minutes later. It is not reasonable that state-of-the-art equipment (body cams and other non-lethal tools) are not readily available to all officers. Kyle’s death is the 4th Redwood City Officer involved death since March of 2017. We believe that it is time that our city invest to improve and make readily available updated tasers, body cams, bean bag shot guns in every car, and review protocols related to scene management (during and after incidents) to protect and serve the citizens of this community.”
A gofundme.com account was launched to assist the Hart family at this difficult time. To contribute, click here.