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Napa Officer Fatal Shooting Deemed Justified, Self-Defense

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Napa shooting, Meek Ave.

Police stand by the covered body of a man shot by officers on the 1400 block of Meek Ave. in Napa Sunday. (CBS/User submitted photo)

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NAPA (BCN) – The Napa County District Attorney’s Office has found that the fatal shooting of a man by a Napa police officer in November was justified and in self-defense.

In a report released Tuesday, District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said Officer Nicholas Dalessi was justified in believing that 60-year-old Richard Poccia “presented an immediate and serious threat of death and great bodily harm” when he shot Poccia outside his Meek Avenue home on Nov. 28.

The officer believed Poccia was reaching for a gun in his waistband when he opened fire, Lieberstein said.

Napa police went to Poccia’s home that day after receiving reports from Poccia’s wife, Samanda Dorger, and family friends that Poccia was alone in the house, had been in psychiatric distress for two days and was deteriorating, according to the district attorney.

Police were told that Poccia, an unemployed nurse, was drinking heavily, owned at least 13 firearms, had fired a shot through a wall and was suicidal, Lieberstein said.

A physician friend who visited Poccia earlier that day told police that Poccia had said he would confront police if they came to his home and that he or the officers, or both, would die, Lieberstein said.

The physician also confirmed that Poccia was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and paranoia and was armed with two handguns and a shotgun, Lieberstein said.

Poccia’s health care provider also told police that Poccia might be suffering from withdrawal from Klonopin, a prescription medication for seizure and panic disorders, Lieberstein said.

Napa police contacted Poccia on his cell phone and he agreed to walk out of his house unarmed and speak to officers at the scene, Lieberstein said.

Officers told Poccia to walk slowly with his hands up and Poccia initially complied but his demeanor quickly changed and he became belligerent and aggressive when he was about eight feet away, Lieberstein said.

Poccia lunged at an officer, yelled profanities and assumed a fighting stance, then suddenly reached into his waistband to pull out an object, Lieberstein said.

Dalessi assumed it was a gun, and he fired a single shot that killed Poccia instantly, Lieberstein said. The Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the shooting, said Poccia was struck in the head.

The object Poccia pulled from his waistband was a four-inch folding knife, Lieberstein said.

Poccia’s blood-alcohol level at the time of his death was 0.32 percent and there was methadone and a common sedative in his system, Lieberstein said.

Poccia ignored the officers’ directions and the officers, who were aware of Poccia’s earlier threats to kill, believed he was capable of concealing a weapon on his person, Lieberstein said.

When Poccia reached into his waistband, the officers had less than a half-second to react, Lieberstein said.

“Accordingly, we have determined that Officer Dalessi’s use of deadly force here was legally justified and, thereby no criminal act was committed in the use of such force while carrying out his duties as a sworn police officer,” Lieberstein said.

Poccia’s family has filed a wrongful death claim, a prelude to filing a lawsuit, against the city of Napa.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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