3 years after Kayla Moore’s in-custody death, protesters gather for vigil, march

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Daniel Kim/Staff

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More than three years after Kayla Moore — a Black transgender woman diagnosed with schizophrenia — died in Berkeley Police Department custody, residents gathered for a vigil and a march Tuesday night to demand a shift in the way law enforcement handles mental health crises.

About 50 protesters marched through the city streets from Old City Hall to the Gaia Building apartment complex where Moore, a 41-year-old Berkeley resident, died in custody Feb. 13, 2013. In front of the building, activists held a moment of silence and sang a mournful song in Moore’s honor, holding posters with her portrait.

In February 2014, Moore’s father filed a lawsuit against the city alleging wrongful death, with the city currently seeking a dismissal of the case. The protest, organized by Justice 4 Kayla Moore and Berkeley Copwatch, aimed to raise awareness of the dismissal hearing Friday and promote improved mental health services in the city.

“(Berkeley) brags about being the No. 1 (city) in the country for disability, but we do nothing for mental disability,” said Maria Moore, Kayla Moore’s sister.

In the lawsuit, Moore’s father Arthur Moore alleged that when BPD officers arrived on the scene, they used excessive force and engaged in false arrest. BPD justified arresting Moore by using a warrant against someone who shared Moore’s legal name that was about 20 years older than her, the lawsuit alleges. Arthur Moore also alleged that officers, while restraining his daughter, neglected to provide her adequate medical attention, resulting in her death.

Initially, a coroner’s report stated Moore’s cause of death to be a toxic combination of methamphetamines and codeine, complicated by obesity and cardiovascular disease. A leaked confidential report by the Berkeley Police Review Commission conducted in February 2014, however, found that at least one BPD officer exercised inappropriate police behavior while Moore was in custody.

According to the leaked PRC report obtained by The Daily Californian, officers used two sets of handcuffs and a wrap harness to restrain Moore, who was partially on her stomach. After five to 10 minutes, Moore stopped resisting, the report found, and one officer realized her chest had stopped moving. Officers placed Moore on her side, but one minute later, according to the report, officers realized that Moore was no longer breathing and had no pulse. The report states that officers then began chest compressions, kept Moore’s airway open and called for a CPR mask.

Furthermore, the report found that BPD Officer Gwendolyn Brown violated Training and Information Bulletin 234, which prohibits placing a restrained person in a face-down position for extended periods of time without monitoring their vital signs.

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Community activist Nanci Armstrong-Temple, who was at the protest, said she hopes Moore’s death — and its aftermath — will incite real change. She added that police officers should be held accountable for their alleged involvement in Moore’s death.

“Accountability looks like changing our contract with the (Berkeley Police Association) and making sure they are accountable to the people, not themselves,” Armstrong-Temple said. “I want policy changes. I want demilitarization of the police.”

Protesters alleged that the lack of mental health training in BPD led to Moore’s death and advocated for social workers and psychologists to act as first responders to incidents involving mental health crises, rather than police.

“We have to change who comes when someone has a mental illness,” said UC Berkeley senior Alex Raffanti, who was at the protest. “Cops shouldn’t come (because) they’re not trained for this.”

Though years have passed since Moore’s death, Maria Moore said Berkeley still has much to improve on regarding mental health care in the city, particularly in terms of those in crisis. She said that 24/7 on-call mental health professionals should respond to people in crisis, rather than police who she said have only received eight hours of training to respond to these calls.

In 2011 — about two years before Moore’s death — BPD was the first agency in Alameda County to implement a crisis intervention training, or CIT, program for all police officers, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. The department also has 30 trained mental health professionals, including a mobile crisis unit, to help people experiencing a crisis, he said. The service has also recently expanded its hours to 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

“Crisis intervention training is really important to our department,” Chakko said. “We train officers to better handle mental health crisis (and) every single police officer has completed CIT.”

A BPD representative was unavailable for comment.

The hearing to dismiss the lawsuit will take place at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco at 10 a.m. Friday. According to Maria Moore, Justice 4 Kayla Moore and Berkeley Copwatch will hold a protest in front of the building starting at 9 a.m.

Pressly Pratt is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @presslypratt.