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Palo Alto police officers cleared in shooting of schizophrenic man

Palo Alto police officers cleared in shooting of schizophrenic man
Dash camera images showed police opening fire at William Raff, 31. Prosecutors said Raff was "intent on dying at the hands of police officers," who used lawful force. (Courtesy of Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office)

Two Palo Alto police officers used lawful force when they fatally shot a schizophrenic man with a knife during a standoff last Christmas, prosecutors in Northern California said Tuesday.

The killing of 31-year-old William Raff outside a transitional housing facility was also found to be another instance of suicide-by-cop, when a suspect does not surrender and induces police to use deadly force, according to the conclusions of the Santa Clara County district attorney's office.

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"The totality of the evidence leads only to the conclusion that William Raff was intent on dying at the hands of police officers," Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Gillingham wrote in a 31-page review of the shooting.

"Raff called 911 that night to create a fake emergency and draw an armed response from the police. Raff then committed suicide by attacking the officers, who shot him in self-defense."

Prosecutors said that Raff falsely told a police dispatcher that a violent man named "Andre Seal" was present at La Selva House, a transitional housing facility for those with addiction issues and mental illness.

Several officers who responded that night later said that they were aware of the home and had handled previous calls to the facility.

Three uniformed officers arrived shortly after 9:15 p.m. and spotted Raff coming from the side of the building, carrying a silver knife and screaming.

Officers ordered Raff to drop the knife, but he kept a "fighting stance," bouncing on his feet and jumping in the air, they said. Officers again ordered him to drop the knife, but he raised it in his hand and charged, they said.

One officer fired a Taser, but it was ineffective. The other two officers opened fire.

The standoff and shooting lasted less than 20 seconds and were captured on dash cameras. Prosecutors released a clip of the video in a bid for transparency and to show what led to their conclusions about the shooting.

Four bullets struck Raff's body. He was rushed to Stanford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Investigators spoke with Raff's father, Garold Raff, who told police of his son's mental health troubles. In addition to schizophrenia, Raff suffered from paranoia and grandiosity, his father said, and often had difficulty relating to the real world.

Twice before, his father said, Raff had tried to kill himself; once he rammed a car into a wall, and on another occasion he stabbed himself three times in the neck.

Raff arrived at the transitional housing facility just a few days before the killing. He'd previously been housed in a locked psychiatric facility in Fremont. It's unclear why he was moved to La Selva House, an unlocked facility.

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Twitter: @MattHjourno

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