Paranoid, schizophrenic and transgender, Kayla Moore followed a difficult path through life. That path ended abruptly when she died after Berkeley Police took her into custody the night of Feb. 12.

police cruiser thinkstock
(Thinkstock)

Now the Berkeley Police Review Commission wants to know exactly how Moore died and what it might mean for the way the department deals with transgender people and with the mentally ill. On Wednesday night the commission voted unanimously to investigate the case.

But even before it started, the investigation has run into serious obstacles. The police are conducting their own investigation, and a Berkeley ordinance prevents a commission investigation from beginning until criminal investigations are complete.

“It will be stayed by our regulations pending the investigation by the Berkeley Police Department, which is a little ridiculous,” Commissioner Seth Morris said. “But it sounds like that’s what our regulations are. Until we rewrite the book, that’s where we are.”

The commission did file a formal complaint, the first step toward an investigation. The complaint had to be filed within 90 days of the incident.

Berkeley Police Department has released few details about officers’ response to Moore’s apartment. Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said three official investigations are pending – one criminal, one internal policy and training, and a third investigation into Moore’s cause of death by the Alameda County Coroner.

The police have also refused to release basic information about the nature of officers’ encounter with Moore, citing their ongoing investigations. A Feb. 13 department press release said police responded to a disturbance at Moore’s downtown Berkeley apartment, and Moore “became increasingly uncooperative to the officer’s verbal commands and began to scream and violently resist.” Officer’s struggled with Moore, and then placed her “in restraints.” They later determined she had stopped breathing and initiated CPR.

The account raised a lot of questions for Moore’s family and friends, who often refer to Kayla by her given name Xavier and use the male pronoun.

Moore’s sister, Maria Moore, said Berkeley Police knew Moore’s history.

“Berkeley was well aware of Xavier’s issues,” she said. “I don’t know the circumstances that happened that night, but mental health wasn’t there for him. They needed that aspect to help calm him down, to help communicate with him. You’re dealing with someone who’s paranoid, who trusts no one, and you have the police there?”

“He had his issues, psychiatric and some drug addiction issues, but he was a gentle soul,” said Carl Butler, the longtime boyfriend of Moore’s sister. “He spent more time taking care of other people than he did himself. Unless prompted, he was never aggressive, which leads to so many questions about the actions of the Berkeley PD that night.”

At the meeting, Butler pressed Meehan on the fact that officers who responded to Moore’s apartment have been removed from administrative leave and are back on their beats, but Meehan offered no explanation.

“My main concern at this point in time, other than the lack of information being shared with us, is the fact that the police officers involved are back on duty, which shows me that there has been an internal investigation completed,” Butler said. “How come the chief couldn’t share findings of that investigation this evening?”

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said the officers had served the set period of time defined by department policy on administrative leave, and had since been put back on their beats. She did not know how long that period is or who makes the administrative decision to reinstate officers.

Maria Moore said her sibling defied stereotypes that may come to mind for people diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“Xavier had a great bubbly personality,” she said. “He was a ditzy bleach blond in a 300 pound black man’s body. He was just so, loving life. He loved everybody. He was just very innocent, childlike.”

Meehan refused to offer a timeline to the commission for completing any of the investigations, saying at one point they would have to wait for a complete coroner’s report, which can take more than three months, according to the Coroner’s office.

“The coroner’s office doesn’t work for us,” Meehan said to the commission. “They are completely independent, and they operate on the timeline that they operate on. We have spoken with them, but we have no influence over them.”

However, a coroner’s office representative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Berkeley police requested they share no preliminary information about Moore’s death, including details about the autopsy.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s office is aware of the police department’s investigations, but the office itself doesn’t automatically review in-custody deaths like they do officer involved shootings that result in a death, the D.A.’s public information officer Teresa Drenick said.

Andrea Prichett, a founding member of Berkeley Copwatch who has been investigating Moore’s death, said the Berkeley Police Department’s lack of transparency is alarming.

“The fact is, with the decline in mental health services, police departments across the country have found themselves dealing with mental health crises that they’re not trained to deal with,” she said. “And across the country they’re being dealt with with lethal consequences.”

Berkeley Mental Health Commissioner Paul Kealoha-Blake told the police review commission that Berkeley’s strategy regarding mental illness had fallen behind the times, and he advocated a greater commitment to Crisis Intervention Training for police officers. The CIT model trains officers in de-escalation techniques for confrontations with people who may be mentally ill.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said the department now has eight CIT certified officers and are working on expanding the training.

“I’m a real supporter of CIT,” Kealoha-Blake said. “It is my hope that Berkeley not only adopts and works in Crisis Intervention Training but we work at it hard and long and provide a model for how it should work. We’re not there yet.”

  • Gage Cook

    If a white guy had died in police custody, nobody would have cared.

    • wheeler57

      This is really a very stupid remark.

    • Truth Sayer

      Why are you making such an incendary untrue comment? The reason that I can see is to incite racial disharmony. I read that a human being died under unusual circumstances, and the investigation is still ongoing.

      • wheeler57

        Thank you for making this point. As someone who visits quite a few blogs, I noticed that there are people that just spend a lot of time trying to piss off people by making this type of incendiary remark.

        • Truth Sayer

          Well stated.

    • Che Joubert

      Well I’m a white guy – and when the police mistreated me back in the day, I worked with the PRC, sued the police, and won. I have no idea why anyone would bring race into this in quite the way Gage Cook has done. I made the point the other day that some people enter blogs just to stir up trouble for their own amusement, maybe that’s the case here.

      But – it is not acceptable to me nor should it be to anyone that the police can do their own review and cut out the commission. I’m not sure it ‘stinks of abuse and a police cover-up’, as Barney McComas says, but it sure stinks of making citizens feel helpless and vulnerable. The death is serious enough and should without doubt be investigated by the PRC, but further, the police need to be kept firmly in place – subject to the rules of the public and not the other way around.

  • William M Popper

    Alarming incident for all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BarneyMcComas Barney McComas

    This stinks of police abuse and cover-up.

  • dsd510

    Very, very suspicious of Berkeley Police.

  • Pirate Party

    The police have been at odds with the current police review commission. There has been a change of membership, adding progressive members to the group. The Berkeley police department was used to working with a commission that was favorable to them, didn’t ask many questions, and didn’t actively investigate complaints. But even though the PRC has changed, the police are being uncooperative and nontransparent because they have the support of the city manager and ordinances which are skewed in the police’s favor.

    Berkeley has a history of being sued by its conservative police department; the city government and the police are in an almost constant state of litigation. So out of fear upsetting the police and risking another lawsuit, the city will take the side of extreme caution and will likely choose to not move an ordinance which would allow an investigation into the death of Kayla Moore.

    “Still waiting.” “If any investigation of this incident is undertaken, confidentiality will be triggered”:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBbulDnAddUh

    Primary inquiry into death of Kayla Moore

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DCZBVp-5No

Author

Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a news reporter focused on criminal justice policy, policing and legal issues. He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at community college in San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Emslie contributed to several Bay Area newspapers and online news outlets before joining KQED in 2013. He loves multimedia reporting, publishing source documents and transparency. He can be reached at aemslie@kqed.org and followed via @SFNewsReporter.

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