Shooting of mentally ill woman justified

May 9, 2009 3:28:20 PM PDT
A Rohnert Park Public Safety Officer was justified in fatally shooting a mentally ill Rohnert Park woman who "accelerated" toward him with a razor in her home last year, Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Friday afternoon.

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Heather Kathleen Billings, 31, was shot three times in the torso by Public Safety Officer Robert Lankford in her home at 7345 Cornell Ave. on March 16, 2008. One of the four bullets Lankford fired penetrated a sofa, Passalacqua said.

Santa Rosa police investigated the shooting and Passalacqua's office reviewed the incident as part of an officer-involved shooting protocol.

"Based on a careful review of the facts and circumstances, this shooting was justified under law. It resulted from the dangerous combination of drugs, alcohol, a utility-type razor blade and mental illness. This was a tragic incident for everyone involved," Passalacqua said in a news release Friday afternoon.

Lankford responded to the house when Billings' mother Patti Smith called 911 because Billings was cutting her arm with a razor and was "drunk and out of control" and "tearing the house apart", Passalacqua said.

Billings was holding the razor in her hand when Lankford arrived and she refused to drop it, Passalacqua said.

"She moved toward Officer Lankford while holding the razor and said words to the effect that he would need to use a gun. After refusing to drop the blade, Ms. Billings accelerated toward the officer to within four to six feet while holding the razor in her hand," Passalacqua said.

Lankford fired four times, striking Billings three times in the torso.

Passalacqua said under the law of self-defense, Lankford was not required to retreat and he acted in lawful self-defense of himself and others.

Billings' blood tested positive for alcohol, valium, methadone, nordiazepam and ethylidene dimethyl diphenylpyrrolidine, Passalacqua said. Passalacqua said his office's review and investigation of the shooting found no evidence to support Smith's claims to the press that Lankford shot Billings twice while she was on the floor. The trajectory of the bullets and an autopsy showed Billings was upright when she was shot, Passalacqua said.

Billings also told the press her daughter had put the razor down before she was shot, Passalacqua said.

A minor who was in the house at the time of the shooting confirmed Billings refused Lankford's order to put the razor down, Passalacqua said.

The minor said Smith picked the razor up from the floor after the shooting occurred and placed it on a table when ordered by police, Passalacqua said.

Between June 18, 2003 and March 16, 2008, there were 35 calls for assistance at the Smith residence and incident reports show Billings had a history of mental and physical health problems including self-mutilation, suicide attempts' alcohol abuse and abuse of prescription and illegal drugs, Passalacqua said.

"This tragedy underscores the need for additional mental health, drug and alcohol treatment resources in the county," Passalacqua said.

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