Death in Paradise

District attorney says latest officer-involved shooting appears justified

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey explains at an October press conference why Oroville police officers were justified in shooting and killing a reportedly suicidal man back in April. Ramsey said last week’s shooting by a Butte County Sheriff’s deputy of 28-year-old Robert Battaglia (inset) also appears to be justified.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey explains at an October press conference why Oroville police officers were justified in shooting and killing a reportedly suicidal man back in April. Ramsey said last week’s shooting by a Butte County Sheriff’s deputy of 28-year-old Robert Battaglia (inset) also appears to be justified.

CN&R file photo by ken smith

Last week, a 28-year-old Paradise man was shot and killed in his home by a sheriff’s deputy. While an investigation is still underway, the killing has been called justified, much like the other two officer-involved shooting deaths in Butte County this past year, not to mention the more high-profile police killings in Missouri and New York.

Two Butte County sheriff’s deputies apparently acted within the department’s protocol when they shot and killed Robert Battaglia in his home, just south of the Paradise Skypark Airport on Good View Road. Battaglia had reportedly attacked the deputies with a knife.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey said deputies Hugh Hooks and William Brewton had responded to a call from Battaglia’s mother, Alynn Brutsman, at about 4 p.m. She told the dispatcher that she had just arrived home to find a broken window and that she believed her son, who lived in the house next door, had forced entry into her home. She added that he had threatened her in the recent past.

Brutsman described Battaglia as a bipolar schizophrenic who’d had a mental health evaluation on Christmas Day but was not held for observation.

Battaglia was part of a large musical family and former drummer for a popular local band called the Musical Brewing Company, which features his sister Alli Battaglia, who is well-known in local musical circles. His death came the day after his 28th birthday.

The incident is being investigated by the Butte County Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Team, which is made up of representatives from each of the Butte County law enforcement agencies as well as the Attorney General Department of Justice crime lab, the California Highway Patrol, the State Parks and Recreation Department and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Ramsey said the investigation is still waiting for final reports from the Department of Justice as well as a toxicology report from the autopsy.

Ramsey offered an account of the day’s events.

“[Battaglia’s mother] knew he was staying at the other house. She had asked him to stay there,” Ramsey said. “There was the incident on Christmas Day just a few days before, so when she came home and saw the broken window, she called 911.”

Ramsey said after making the call, Brutsman drove down Good View Road to meet with the deputies on Clark Road and was then escorted back to her house. She and the deputies made contact with Battaglia through the front door of his house, but he locked it and refused to come out.

“Deputy Hooks said, ‘We just want to talk and make sure you’re OK,’” Ramsey said.

At that point, Brutsman went to the side door of the house and opened it to a 20-foot-long hallway. Ramsey said the deputies spotted Battaglia at the other end of the hall just before he stepped into the kitchen, where he allegedly grabbed a knife.

“He then reappeared and suddenly rushed down the hallway,” Ramsey said. “By that point, his mother had left and deputy Hooks was basically watching someone running full steam at him and yelling incoherently.”

He said Hooks spotted the knife just as Battaglia began to make “frenzied stabbing motions.” Hooks started to deploy his gun, but Battaglia reached him first and pushed him back, forcing the deputy to put up his arms in self defense.

At that point, Brewton entered the hall and Battaglia turned his attention to him, Ramsey said.

“He started making the same frenzied type of stabbing motions toward deputy Brewton. He pulled his gun, but Mr. Battaglia grabbed it, which caused it not to fire. At that point deputy Hooks was able to draw his gun and, out of fear that deputy Brewton was in grave danger of being killed, he fired one shot into the side of Mr. Battaglia’s body.”

The shot went through his arm and into his torso, severing his aorta, Ramsey said. Paradise police officers arrived on the scene, as did a medical crew, and Battaglia was determined to be dead.

In the skirmish, Brewton received a 3-inch cut on his throat that did not require stitches. He also suffered a jammed thumb and assorted bruising, Ramsey said.

In the aftermath, both Battaglia’s mother and his brothers, who arrived later, “were understandably upset with what had taken place,” Ramsey said.

Battaglia’s sister Alli said that while the family is deeply mourning the loss of their brother and son, they also share another concern.

“I guess what’s most on the family’s mind is raising awareness about the police department’s need for safe methods of dealing with mentally ill people in a nonviolent manner,” she said in an email.

But, according to Ramsey, the deputies do have such expertise.

“The deputies had gone through crisis intervention training to learn how to deal with this kind of thing. They’d asked him to ‘Please talk to us.’”

Ramsey said the deputies had dealt with Battaglia before. Butte County court records show an incident in December 2007 in which he pleaded no contest to a charge of resisting a peace officer and was ordered to enroll in the New Dawn Recovery rehab program, which he did, successfully completing the requirement.

Soon after the shooting both Ramsey and Sheriff Kory Honea arrived on the scene, which Ramsey said is not unusual in such a case.

“Any time the agency has an officer-involved shooting, the head of the agency responds and I coordinate the offices [that make up the Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Team].”

The officers have been taken off duty, which is standard protocol in such cases.

As for this happening in the wake of several high-profile officer-involved deaths—including the cases of Michael Brown, who was shot by an officer in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, who died while being restrained with a chokehold by police on Staten Island, N.Y.—Ramsey said there is no comparison.

“This is a different type of case,” he said. “What we’ve had in the Ferguson and New York cases were unarmed people. [Battaglia] was a man who was definitely armed, and a man who by all indications was homicidal. He attacked the officers. He was really frenzied. It was not just a walk down the hallway with the knife uplifted. When he got to the officers he started stabbing motions, they were legitimately and reasonably in fear of their lives.”