On the morning of December 10, 2018, Kristin Hart called 911 because her husband Kyle Hart had cut himself several times with a knife while attempting suicide.
Within 30 seconds of their arrival, one of the two cops who responded shot and killed Kyle Hart in the back yard of their Redwood City home.
Almost three years later, lawyers announced on Wednesday that they would file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Kristin Hart against Redwood City, the chief of police and the two responding officers.
“Kyle was a sick person who needed help, and instead of providing the help they were trained to provide, the police killed him,” said Kristin Hart. “Kyle deserves better. The citizens of Redwood City deserve better. “
In tears, Kristin Hart described Kyle Hart Wednesday as her best friend, a wonderful husband, and a devoted father. The two were both teachers and met in college in 2005. They had recently moved to Redwood City, Kyle’s hometown, and were hoping to raise their children there, Kristin said. Their daughter Ellie was born three days before his death.
The lawsuit alleges that Kyle Hart’s civil rights were violated through the excessive use of force and makes a claim on behalf of his wife and children who, according to attorney John Burris, “suffered and will continue to suffer from those shootings.”
Kristin Hart said while monetary damage is part of the lawsuit, she ultimately believes the city, department and officials must be held accountable for her husband’s death.
“The officers had no consideration for Kyle’s dignity or medical needs, nor did they care for me or my children,” said Kristin Hart. “Kyle died without the comfort of his family around him. We couldn’t say goodbye. I don’t know who they thought were there that day to serve and protect, but it wasn’t my family. ”
The officers involved in the shooting have not been prosecuted and are still employed by the department. San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe found that they “acted lawfully” because Kyle Hart allegedly approached them with a knife. One of the officers tried to use a taser and when it wasn’t working properly the other officer shot Kyle Hart.
Kristin Hart, whose husband Kyle was fatally shot by police in their Redwood City home in 2018, has filed a civil lawsuit against Redwood City. (Courtesy of the Hart family)
Wagstaffe on Wednesday reiterated its 2018 decision that the shooting was lawful conduct by officials, but added that there may still be a basis for a civil lawsuit as there are different standards for a criminal lawsuit versus a civil lawsuit.
“In our view … what the officers did did not violate California’s Law on the Use of Force Against Individuals,” Wagstaffe said. “I concluded that they had acted in lawful self-defense, but when I judge something, I do it on the basis of a criminal standard based on unequivocal evidence. A civil lawsuit, we’ll see where it lands on this line. “
Kristin Hart hopes the lawsuit will change the Redwood Police Department’s response to mental health emergencies.
“So far it has not been recognized that mental health response is an area where the police even need to improve,” said Kristin Hart. “What I would like to see is a comprehensive approach to how the Redwood City Police Department respond to a person in a mental crisis. The right equipment and training are part of it, but must be based on a culture that truly values all people, no matter who they are. “
Kristin Hart added that she had spoken to the city several times in the past two years about making changes so “what happened to Kyle doesn’t happen to anyone else,” which is her primary goal. She said the city was not receptive and no progress had been made, which led to the lawsuit.
In a statement, Redwood City officials said that while the city has been unable to speak up on active legal disputes, it has since partnered with San Mateo County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services to launch a pilot program of dealing with people in mental health Establish health crises.
“The loss of life is always tragic, as is the case with the death of Mr. Hart. City officials have appreciated the opportunity to work with the Hart family in the past and hear their recommendations on police policies, ”Redwood City officials said.
Burris said he doesn’t believe cops should be the first responders when a person is in a mental crisis; Instead, sociologists, psychologists, and other trained individuals should respond.
“In situations where family members are calling for help because their loved ones are suffering from a mental crisis, we have seen far too often that when the police arrive, instead of de-escalating the situation and taking control of the situation, the Situation kills person and killing them under circumstances that are highly questionable, ”said Burris.
“In a case like this, where it was pretty clear it was a major mental health crisis, a person with real experience dealing with such issues should have been there,” Burris said. “Because even we know that in a situation like this with a mentally disabled person, you don’t yell at them and yell at them and tell them to drop something. You first try to communicate with them and calm the situation down, to let them know that you are not there to harm them. And, unfortunately, when you have guns and you pull out, you create a hostile environment. “
Bay City News contributed to this report.
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