ER - 4/28/2006 Preliminary results indicate officers followed pro

Eureka Police Chief Dave Douglas fields questions from reporters at a news conference Thursday morning regarding the April 14 officer-involved shooting of Cheri Moore. Heather Muller/The Eureka Reporter
Preliminary results indicate officers followed protocol
by Christine Bensen-Messinger, 4/28/2006

Preliminary results about the April 14 police-involved shooting were released at a Thursday morning news conference attended by media, Eureka police officers and personnel, Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager and Police Chief Dave Douglas.

While the investigation is ongoing, Douglas said the findings that have been released so far appear to show that the Eureka police officers — who shot and killed Eureka resident Cheri Moore, 48 — were justified in their actions and acted legally and lawfully.

The incident is being investigated by the county’s Critical Incident Response Team, which consists of representatives from the Eureka Police Department, Fortuna Police Department, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Justice.

Douglas said the statements made by the officers involved in the shooting are consistent with the evidence.

“All pieces were consistent, one with another,” he said. “It’s important for the community to know the officers were doing the right thing.”

The investigation’s outcome makes the shooting no less tragic for the victim’s family and friends, the officers and their families or the community, Douglas said.

“The officers who were involved, like their families, will continue to suffer the consequences of this incident,” he said.

The incident, which started as a welfare check shortly before 10 a.m., per the request of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Mental Health Branch, ended with the shooting death of Moore, who had a history of mental illness.

Douglas said shooting Moore was the last resort.

He said contact with Moore had been made twice by negotiators. Once she spoke to them for 15 seconds, and the other time, Douglas said, Moore made a profane statement and then hung up the phone.

As the time went on, Douglas said there was growing concern that Moore may fire the flare gun she had in her possession. He said police also had information based on statements Moore had made to other people and written statements that she may also be in possession of a .38 and a .9mm handgun.

If it was not possible to talk Moore down and get her mental health care, Douglas said, police were hoping to be able to subdue her once she put down the flare gun.

The opportunity arose approximately two hours into the incident, which he said was sooner than he expected. At that point, Douglas said, the SWAT team members went down the hall to Moore’s residence and entered her apartment.

“The officers made legal entry under risk to themselves,” Douglas said. “They entered with the hope of catching Cheri Moore with her hands free.”

When they first saw her, according to officers’ statements, the flare gun was sitting next to her cocked and loaded and Douglas said she picked it up and pointed it at the officers.

“She turned, pointed it at them and they fired and she was killed,” he said.

Moore was shot five times by a rifle and at least three times by a semi-automatic shotgun. The weapons were fired by officer Rocky Harpham and Sgt. Michael Johnson, neither of whom had previously been involved in a shooting.

After being placed on paid leave, Douglas said both officers have been cleared to come back to work.

Officer Tim Jones was also involved in the incident, but he shot a nonfatal compressed air-gas gun and was not placed on leave.

“What they did, they did appropriately for the situation,” he said. “Where the bullets hit provided information (that)… she was turning toward the officers.

“The really sad part here was that she made a choice to pick up the weapon,” Douglas said. “This could have (and) this should have ended differently. We hoped that she would not reach for any item and they would be able to approach her, restrain her and arrange for transportation.”

He said Moore was known to officers through prior contact.

During the incident, Douglas said information that she wanted her medication was relayed. He said police also had information that Moore “used a variety of substances.”

Some he said were prescribed, while others may have been illegally purchased.

Toxicology reports are expected to be available in as soon as two weeks.

Something Douglas said he hopes can come from this incident is the development of a crisis team made up in part of mental health professionals who could possibly help in these types of situations.

There is only a certain amount of information about a patient’s history and what medicines they are prescribed that can be released, he said.

If such a team were created, it could aid in helping similar situations, such as making it possible for the patient to get his or her medication, he said.

In a news release, Humboldt County Health and Human Services Director Phillip Crandall acknowledged the “emotional toll” the shooting has taken on the community and its “profound” impact on the mentally ill and their families.

“The department is committed to working with clients, the Mental Health Board, law enforcement and other stakeholders such as the National Alliance for Mentally Ill,” he said. “We will work towards researching and developing additional crisis intervention approaches that can be applied in Humboldt County.”

Crandall and Mental Health Director Donna Wheeler hope to establish an initial meeting with county and city officials in the next few weeks.

As more information becomes available, Douglas said the police department will release it.

While the results were tragic, Douglas said his officers appear to have followed all orders.

“It should have worked,” he said. “We thought it would. … We wouldn’t have tried it otherwise. It’s just really, really sad.”

The Eureka Police Department’s Use of Deadly Force Policy

Deadly Force Applications
While the use of a firearm is expressly considered deadly force, other force might also be considered deadly force if the officer reasonably anticipates and intents that the force applied will create a substantial likelihood of causing death or very serious injury. Use of deadly force is justified in the following circumstances.
(a) An officer may use deadly force to affect the arrest or prevent escape of a suspected felon where the officer had probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others. Under such circumstances, a verbal warning shall precede the use of deadly force, where feasible. If the officer or citizens is under attack, a warning need not be given when not practical and safe to do so.

Copyright (C) 2005, The Eureka Reporter. All rights reserved.

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