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$700,000 Settlement|for Fatal Police Shooting

NAPA, Calif. (CN) - Napa, Calif., will pay $700,000 to a widow for shooting to death her unarmed, depressed husband.

The settlement ends a civil lawsuit that was set for trial in January.

Napa police shot Richard Poccia to death on Nov. 28, 2010. His wife, Samanda Dorger, and his daughter, Gabrielle Poccia, then sued the city of Napa and two police officers in Federal Court.

Napa and Poccia's survivors issued a joint statement on the settlement.

His wife and daughter claims that police shot Poccia without provocation after he agreed to come out of his home to speak to Napa police officers. Poccia "was experiencing severe depression" at the time.

"The City contends that Mr. Poccia was suicidal and that the officer's actions were a lawful and justified response to a life-threatening situation that endangered the lives of the officers and Mr. Poccia," according to the joint statement.

"The physical evidence in this case established that Mr. Poccia was not shot while handcuffed or from behind. The parties have agreed to a settlement in which liability is not admitted by the City, but which includes payment by the City of $700,000 to Ms. Dorger and Ms. Poccia."

The city's attorney, Gregory Fox, with Bertrand Fox in San Francisco, told Courthouse News that the joint statement was a "somewhat unusual move."

Khaldoun Baghdadi, representing the plaintiffs, said in an email that he knows of no larger civil rights settlement in Napa city history. The city attorney's office could not confirm this statement.

"We are very proud of the result achieved here, particularly in light of the requirement that the Napa Police Department undergo the training to deal with citizens in mental crisis," said Baghdadi, of Walkup Melodia in San Francisco.

The joint statement says the city will crisis intervention training this year for all of patrol officers and supervisory personnel.

"We believe this settlement and the training that it requires will be a first step in recognizing that mental illness is a medical crisis, and not a criminal offense," Baghdadi said.

Steve Potter, the city's police chief, said in a telephone interview that the case has effected a "philosophical change" in the police department's response to mental health crises.

"We're doing a better job in how we set up perimeters and contain situations," he said. "And we've made it more of an apprehension-based philosophy for such incidents, instead of using an emergency response-type unit.

"Now it's about taking people into custody. That's your mission, instead of reacting to the situation when it starts to unfold in front of you."

Potter also said that the police department wants to rebuild community trust.

"We recognize this as a tragedy," he said. "The family has suffered enough, the officers involved have suffered enough, and the community has suffered enough.

"It was time to put this thing behind us."

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