From the start, friends and family wondered if Santa Clara police could have done something other than resort to deadly force when they dealt with a young rapper who had turned violent at a 2008 house party.

Monday, a federal appeals court will examine the same question as it hears arguments in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Santa Clara Police Department, which is accused of going overboard when officers shot and killed Aziz Howard Raqmond James after they arrived on a chaotic scene at a Crystal Drive house in the predawn hours.

James, considered a rising Bay Area hip-hop star known as Almighty Aziz, had by all accounts become violent at the party, stabbing two friends and a police dog before he was fatally shot by officers who arrived at the scene. James was hiding in a locked bedroom, blocking the door, when the police responded to 911 calls from partygoers who reported the stabbings.

James’ family sued after the incident, arguing that police used excessive force and could have taken alternative steps to avoid his death. Santa Clara police, however, maintain in court papers that officers were confronted with a menacing, violent man when they burst into the bedroom; James, rather than agree to be subdued, even attacked the police dog sent inside, stabbing the dog with his knife.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg sided with the city, dismissing the lawsuit after concluding the use of force was reasonable under the circumstances. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider an appeal of that ruling in the hearing in San Francisco.

In an unusual twist, the legal arguments in the case have been filed under seal in the appeals court, which agreed to keep them confidential because they refer to the Santa Clara Police Department’s internal policies for dealing with hostage and “barricaded suspect” situations. The 9th Circuit, in a signal the court is taking a fresh look at police deadly force situations, also has combined the Santa Clara case with two other cases, from Nevada and Arizona, that raise similar legal questions.

At the time of the incident, James was a 24-year-old Santa Cruz-based rapper who performed throughout California. Howard James III, James’ brother, told the Mercury News after the shooting, “I just don’t think police did everything they could have.”

Jai Gohel, a lawyer for James’ family, concedes now that James was “exhibiting behavior that was dangerous and even criminal.” Nevertheless, he said police did not have to resort to shooting James because he was contained and alone in the bedroom.

“They should have waited him out,” Gohel said. “They had time on their side.”

Jim Fitzgerald, the lawyer for Santa Clara police, did not return a detailed phone message and email seeking comment.

But Judge Seeborg sided heavily with the city’s argument that negotiating with James at the time of the shooting was not an option, given that he didn’t turn violent against the officers until they broke down the bedroom door. The lawsuit alleges police should have used a trained hostage negotiator before bursting in on James, but the judge called that argument “unpersuasive.”

“While there can be no question that the facts of this case are monumentally tragic, the police officers’ behavior and decisions cannot be said to shock the conscience,” the judge observed. “The officers were faced with a nonresponsive but potentially armed person who had already stabbed two people only a few hours before and who was demonstrating erratic, unpredictable behavior.”