Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Update on Rohnert Park Killing
Slain Rohnert Park woman had criminal record
By LORI A. CARTER AND RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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Details emerged Tuesday about the life of the 31-year-old Rohnert Park woman shot and killed by Rohnert Park police Sunday, including revelations of a misdemeanor criminal history stretching more than 10 years involving drug and alcohol abuse.
Santa Rosa police Tuesday identified the woman as Heather Kathleen Billings, 31. Family members said Monday she also was known by her maiden name, Heather Smith.
Police on Tuesday also identified Robert Lankford as the Rohnert Park public safety officer who shot Billings after responding to a dispute between her and her mother.
Family members Tuesday disputed the police account of the confrontation and whether Billings was holding a razor blade at the time of the shooting.
“When the officer told her to drop it, she dropped it. She was not interested in hurting anyone except herself," said Patti Smith, 52, the mother.
Lankford, 29, has worked in Rohnert Park as an officer and firefighter for 11 months, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat said.
He previously worked as a CHP officer for six years out of the Rohnert Park office.
According to Lankford’s account of the incident, provided in a statement from Santa Rosa police, who are investigating the shooting, Billings was uncooperative and “would not comply with the officer’s numerous requests to drop the weapon.”
Police said Billings advanced toward the officer and Lankford fired. Police have not released information on the number of shots fired. Family members said Billings was shot three times.
Lankford was placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting, normal procedure in such cases.
Billings’ criminal history started in 1995 and extended until the time of her death, according to court records.
She was due to appear in Marin County drug court Tuesday for a misdemeanor drug possession charge, court officials said. She also was expected in Sonoma County court in April.
Billings was 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, driving on a suspended license. The last case was an arrest in 2005 for alleged trespassing.
According to court records, Billings spent 41 days in the Sonoma County Jail in total from two cases in 2001.
In Marin County in October 2005, she was sentenced 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 being served at her Rohnert Park home in October 2006.
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Police officer identified in Rohnert Park shooting
By RANDI ROSSMANN AND MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Rohnert Park public safety officer who on Sunday shot and killed a 31-year-old Rohnert Park woman was identified Tuesday as Robert Lankford.
Lankford has worked in Rohnert Park as an officer and firefighter for 11 months. He previously was a CHP officer for six years, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Lisa Banayat said.
Lankford was placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting, normal procedure in cases of violence involving officers.
Police also formally released the identity of the shooting victim, Heather Kathleen Billings of Rohnert Park. Billings also goes by her maiden name, Heather Smith, according to family members.
Rohnert Park police Lt. Jeff Taylor said Lankford had participated in a training program aimed at instructing officers how to respond to mental health crises. The eight-hour training is based on curriculum from Sonoma County’s new Crisis Intervention Training.
Taylor, who made it clear he was not commenting of the specifics of Sunday’s shooting, said 51 patrol officers participated in the Rohnert Park training in mid-January. He said the training helps officers to deal with people suffering mental health problems.
But he said an officer may use deadly force whenever there is a threat to his or her life or the lives of others. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is from a violent felon or someone with mental illness, he said.
“Force is determined by the amount of threat against the officer,” Taylor said.
Rohnert Park’s policies for the use of deadly force are based on state and federal laws, he said, adding that the use of “objectively reasonable force” is based on what the officer knew at the time he or she was being threatened.
The county’s crisis intervention training, which is being spearheaded by the health department’s emergency psychiatric services and the Sheriff’s Department, recently graduated its first round of 30 officers: 10 from Santa Rosa, 19 from the Sheriff’s Department and one from Healdsburg.
Another training session is scheduled for May, and Taylor said Rohnert Park has been given two slots for that training.
In other information released Tuesday afternoon, Banayat said officers have responded to the Cornell Avenue home where Billings lived with her young son and mother, Patti Smith, 29 times since 2004.
The calls ranged from complaints by neighbors about a barking dog to repeated calls about a disturbance at the home involving Billings and her mother, Banayat said.
An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.