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Kayla Moore’s Death Prompts Trial and Review of BPD Officers

US Senior District Judge Charles Breyer deferred the City of Berkeley’s motion for a summary judgment regarding the in-custody death of Kayla Moore at a hearing on Friday, September 23. The motion’s approval would have meant that the judge dismissed the case pre-trial. Instead, Brewer decided to verify evidence and reconvene the hearing on October 17, with a verdict on whether the case will continue, or with more questions for clarification.

Moore was a 347-pound transgender African American woman with a documented history of schizophrenia. She died at 41 years old on February 13, 2013, after the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) responded to a mental health call made by her roommate at the time, John Hayes. An internal BPD review reported the death as an accident.

In February 2014, Arthur Moore, father of the deceased, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, and eight involved police officers, whom he accused of misconduct. His complaint stated that officers seized Moore illegally, with a warrant intended for someone twenty years older than her. Then, he said, they used excessive force to restrain her, and placed her on her stomach in a position that interfered with her ability to breathe, escalating her psychological and physiological crisis.

A Police Review Commission investigation leaked to the Daily Cal found that the lead officer on the scene violated department procedure in not constantly monitoring Moore’s vital signs. However, the report had no ability to impact internal discipline proceedings due to the time of its submission.

In the wake of the incident, Justice 4 Kayla Moore formed to raise awareness about Moore’s death. On Tuesday, before the recent hearing, the organization collaborated with Copwatch, a community watchdog group, to hold a protest and vigil. Participants marched from Old City Hall to the apartment where she perished, demanding changes to city and police policies.

Andrea Prichett, a founding member of Copwatch, said that one of the protesters’ main concerns was the BPD’s response to mental health crises. According to Prichett, 35 percent of police calls pertain to mental health problems.

City of Berkeley Public Information Officer Matthai Chakko said training officers on mental health issues is a priority for the department and the city. “We have made sure that every single one of our officers has been trained in crisis intervention techniques,” he said.

Nevertheless, Justice 4 Kayla Moore has called on the City of Berkeley to cut one-third of the police budget and redirect the funds into a civilian-run mental health crisis response program. Charlotte Halloran-Couch, organizer with Justice 4 Kayla Moore, referenced a city attorney’s comment during the summary judgment case as evidence in favor of such a program. The attorney said that police accommodated Moore’s disability by speaking to her for fifteen to twenty minutes before the arrest.

Halloran-Couch said in response, “The idea that fifteen minutes is enough time to walk someone through an intense emotional state is absurd … This is typical of how police treat people with mental health disabilities, and for this reason, police should simply not be responding to mental health calls.”

On the other hand, Chakko cited the city’s mental health services as a point of municipal pride. Berkeley is one of just two cities in the state with its own Mental Health Division.

Additionally, the Mobile Crisis Team, a group of city staff dedicated to responding to mental health crises, has been a part of city mental health services since the 1970s. The team operates seven days a week and can be deployed by an officer at a scene, contacted by dispatch, or called directly, Chakko said.

Chakko said that the collaboration of police and mental health staff is essential because mental health staff do not have the authority to detain people and administer a 5150 psychiatric hold. They also require police presence for their own protection. “It’s a mutual training and support that they provide to each other to deliver services effectively and safely,” Chakko said.

Justice 4 Kayla Moore believes that transphobia and racism may also have factored into Moore’s death. In general, the group believes that the BPD has “a systematic problem of racist, ableist, classist, transphobic policing,” said Hallogan-Couch. For instance, she said, a 2015 Copwatch analysis of BPD data found that while only eight percent of the city population is black, 32 percent of BPD police stops are of black people. Chakko said that the department has made a conscious effort to recruit officers who represent Berkeley’s diverse population and can perform their duties with sensitivity and awareness. The department has conducted a Fair and Impartial Policing training, in which officers discussed the science of bias. Chakko also stressed BPD’s transparency; police stop data is published on the City of Berkeley’s Open Data Portal.

Regardless of whether the judge dismisses the case, Halloran-Couch said that Justice 4 Kayla Moore’s fight for justice will not end. “We’ll keep saying Kayla’s name and telling her story,” she said.