(May the Truth be revealed, may the lies be exposed, may the deceived wake up, may the sinner repent and may souls be saved I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. To shoot and kill someone holding a razor blade is way over the top - and now the mother who was there, says her daughter dropped the razor blade! PLUS, the police shot the girl THREE TIMES - TOTALLY OUTRAGEOUS! This is a very sad tragedy. The police need to come clean and stop trying to cover their tracks with lies. May the Lord comfort the Smith family at this time of loss. cp)
WATCH THE VIDEO (CLICK HERE) TO HEAR THE MOTHER'S ACCOUNT!
Patti Smith reacts as she describes her daughter's shooting.
Rohnert Park shooting account disputed
By DEREK J. MOORE and RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The mother of a Rohnert Park woman shot and killed Sunday by police said Tuesday her daughter followed an officer's orders to drop a razor blade and did not present a danger to anyone but herself.
Patti Smith, who lived with her 31-year-old daughter at Smith's Cornell Avenue home, said her daughter, Heather Billings, had removed the blade earlier that day from a disposable razor and was using it to carve gashes in her arms, prompting Smith to phone 911 for help.
In the living room where the fatal encounter took place, Smith said she bent down to retrieve the blade after her daughter dropped it. She said she then placed the blade on a glass-covered table at the Rohnert Park officer's instructions.
Smith said it is her belief her daughter was headed for the front door when the officer shot Billings in the chest.
"After the first time he shot my baby, I said, "what are you doing?' He walked up to her and shot her two more times,'" Smith, 52, said at her modest house, where a large bloodstain still marked the light blue carpet.
Police on Tuesday officially identified the dead woman as Heather Kathleen Billings. Billings also used her maiden name, Heather Smith, according to family members.
Smith's version of events differs sharply from that of police, who say the officer acted in self-defense when Billings kept advancing toward him with the blade still in her hands.
Santa Rosa police, who are investigating the shooting, previously described the item as a "straight-edged razor blade" and said Billings wielded it as a "weapon."
On Tuesday, a Santa Rosa police spokeswoman described the item as a 2-inch blade from a utility knife. She said the blade did not come from a shaving razor.
Family members were incensed that police described the item as a weapon, however, and insisted that it could not be perceived as a threat.
"I don't care if she had a razor blade and attacked" the officer, said Don Burns, Billings' uncle. "The amount of force was way out of hand."
According to a police evidence log provided by the family, police seized two "razors" and three bullet casings after the shooting.
Authorities on Tuesday identified the public safety officer involved as Robert Lankford, 29, and said he has worked for the Rohnert Park department for 11 months.
He previously worked as a CHP officer for six years out of the CHP's Rohnert Park office, said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat.
Lankford was the first officer on the scene and others officers were en route, police said.
Lankford was placed on paid administrative leave as a matter of routine after the shooting, the fourth in the past year involving a Sonoma County police agency and people suffering a mental health crisis.
Billings, who has a lengthy criminal record, was seeing a psychiatrist and she had been prescribed antidepressant medication in the past, according to the family. However, her mother said she was not taking any medications of that type at the time of Sunday's shooting.
Smith said her daughter was a recovering alcoholic who had been sober for six months but on Saturday relapsed and was drinking beer and vodka.
Posted on the refrigerator door inside the house is the daily morning prayer adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the bedroom Billings shared with her 11-year-old son are several of the boy's homemade drawings, including one of a goofy monster and the words, "I love you this much."
The boy was at home Sunday but in another room when his mother was shot. He came out of his room afterward to see what had happened, Smith said. He is now staying with other relatives.
Smith said her daughter began drinking and running away from home as a teenager as a way of numbing the trauma of being sexually abused as a child.
After earning her GED, Billings lived in Oregon and Washington before she returned to Rohnert Park, where she lived with her mother while receiving welfare payments.
Smith said Billings, who stood about 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed close to 180 pounds, suffered from pancreatitis related to her heavy drinking.
"Her medication was alcohol," Smith said.
Billings' drinking picked up again Sunday, and she began cutting herself in the bathroom, Smith said. When she started yelling and overturning furniture, Smith made the decision to call for help.
"My goal was to get her into an ambulance and sewn up at a hospital and treatment for her depression," Smith said.
It wasn't the first time Rohnert Park police had been dispatched to the house.
Police records show officers have been there 29 times since 2004, Banayat said.
Several calls were from neighbors complaining about barking dogs. But Banayat said most were for disturbance calls involving Billings and her mother.
Billings had been arrested 10 times in Sonoma County since 1995 and, of those, had three convictions.
In 1995, she was arrested and convicted of theft and was given two years' probation.
In 2001, she was arrested and convicted of drunken driving and given three years' probation. That probation later was extended to this April after a subsequent arrest and conviction for check or credit card forgery in 2001, according to records.
The other seven arrests, all dismissed, involved allegations of drugs, drunken driving, giving a false identification and driving on a suspended license. The last case was an arrest in 2005 for alleged trespassing.
She spent 41 days in the Sonoma County Jail from two cases in 2001.
In Marin County, she was sentenced in October 2005 for a conviction involving misdemeanor drug possession, said a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
Court records show she failed to appear for hearings several times, apparently leading to an arrest warrant served at her Rohnert Park home in October 2006.
Billings was due to appear Tuesday in Marin County drug court for a misdemeanor drug possession charge, court officials said.
That record aside, Smith said her daughter was making an effort to turn her life around, before things started unraveling on Sunday.
In her 911 call, according to police, Smith told operators that her daughter "might have some psych issues" and that Billings was "tearing things up around the house."
She also told operators her daughter had hit her.
On Tuesday, Smith described the blow as a soft slap on the cheek and said she did not fear for her safety.
Lankford arrived at the home at about 3:51 p.m. and entered through the unlocked front door after he heard screaming from inside the residence, police said.
Smith said she walked into the living room to see the officer and her daughter standing several feet apart facing one another.
She said the officer was standing with his back to the front windows, next to a grandfather clock that is near the front door.
A trail of blood droplets shows the path Billings took from the bathroom where she had been cutting herself into the living room, where Smith said she stood next to the coffee table.
What happened next is in dispute.
Police said Billings kept moving toward Lankford while holding the razor blade in her right hand and ignoring the officer's repeated demands for her to drop it.
Smith, however, said Billings dropped the blade and did not make any threatening moves toward the officer. She also does not recall her daughter saying anything during this time.
Smith was at a loss to explain how Billings wound up next to the grandfather clock with the officer turned and facing her from the opposite direction, his gun drawn.
Asked if Billings had lunged at the officer, perhaps forcing him to quickly adjust his position, Smith said that was not the case.
"I was right there," Smith said. "If my daughter had any fault in this, I would be honest and tell you."
Smith said her daughter collapsed to the floor after the officer shot her in the chest.
She said the officer fired two more shots after Billings already was on the floor.
"He was actually very calm," Smith said. "Too calm."
Burns said a doctor that treated Billings at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital told him she had been shot three times in the chest.
An autopsy is scheduled for today.
Banayat on Tuesday again confirmed the police account. "We stand by our press release," she said, noting more information will be released as the investigation continues.
After the shooting, Smith and Billings' son were quickly escorted out of the house. Smith said investigators interviewed her later that night at a nearby hotel.
On Monday, Smith said she returned to find her house "torn apart." Investigators had taken away several items for evidence, including prescription medication for Billings.
Smith said she has not had an opportunity to think about planning a memorial service for her daughter.
The family has made contact with several attorneys, however, while mulling over their next steps.
"We just want to set the story straight," Smith said.
News Researcher Michele Van Hoeck and Staff Writer Lori A. Carter contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writers Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or email@example.com.