Judge indefinitely postpones trial for Kayla Moore’s in-custody death

Yukun Zhang/File

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A pre-trial hearing for the death of Kayla Moore, who died in the custody of Berkeley Police Department officers, was called off by presiding Judge Charles Breyer on Wednesday afternoon in order for him to privately assess both sides’ arguments.

The hearing was supposed to be the final event before the case’s impending trial, which was previously set for Nov. 6-12. But Breyer, of the U.S. District Court of Northern California, postponed this trial date. He stated that he will instead evaluate both sides’ arguments and hear the case in early 2018. If he sides with the city of Berkeley, the trial may not occur at all.

Breyer stated that if he judged the city’s statements to be more accurate than those of the Moore family’s lawyer, Adante Pointer, the case would not go to trial. If Breyer decides that Pointer’s statements contain sufficient evidence that BPD officers violated the city of Berkeley’s American Disabilities Act, or ADA, policy, the case will go to trial.

Moore was a Black transgender woman with schizophrenia who died in the custody of BPD officers in 2013. According to a document assembled by Berkeley Copwatch entitled “People’s Investigation: In-Custody Death of Kayla Moore,” a friend of Moore’s called BPD worried that Moore was having a mental health episode. When police officers arrived, they attempted to arrest Moore. The document alleges that the officers’ actions caused Moore’s death.

Moore’s family filed a civil suit in 2014 against the city of Berkeley and the police officers involved, according to the Justice 4 Kayla Moore website. According to the website, the case now focuses on holding the city and police officers accountable for violating the ADA.

According to activist Cookie Bivens of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project the case has the potential to set a major precedent in terms of reaffirming other cities’ police departments’ compliance with the ADA. Pointer stated Wednesday that the case will likely go to the Supreme Court.

“Mental illness runs in the whole society,” Bivens said. “If not for the push of the people, history would be replaced with stagnation. There is a need to have compassion for our human family with disabilities.”

At the courthouse Wednesday, Judge Breyer announced his intention to “vacate” the hearing and postpone the trial date. Instead, he told Pointer and the attorney for the city of Berkeley to submit briefs containing the entirety of the statements and arguments they plan to make in trial to the jury.

In a statement to more than 30 of Moore’s supporters outside the court building, Pointer took issue with Breyer’s decision, arguing that a trial should be decided by a jury not a judge.

“The judge in our opinion wants to sit in place of the jury,” Pointer told the group.

Pointer also emphasized the large time interval that the litigation for the case has spanned. He noted that the trial was first supposed to occur in 2016, then Oct. 22, 2017, then Nov. 6, and now will occur sometime in 2018 — five years after Moore’s death.

“For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the quote-unquote ‘justice system’ until this case, you see why people say the wheels of justice move slow,” Pointer said to Moore’s supporters. “Whatever day the judge sets, please believe that my team and I, and I hope all of you, will be here ready to fight.”

Rachael Cornejo covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.