ER Coroner's inquest into police-involved shooting rescheduled
by Christine Bensen-Messinger, 7/24/2006
Sometime in early to mid-September, a coroner’s inquest, expected to last three to four days, will be held at the Humboldt County Courthouse, with
the purpose of learning more about the April 14 police-involved shooting death of Eureka resident Cheri Moore.
Although used frequently in the 1950s and ‘60s, coroner’s inquests are not common, but if requested by a police chief or district attorney, Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager said one must be conducted.
The inquest into Moore’s shooting comes at the request of Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos.
The inquest was originally scheduled to begin July 31.
“We had a meeting this weekend (and) there are a number of witnesses that are unavailable … next week,” Jager said. “(So), we made the decision this weekend to postpone the inquest.”
He said the inquest will be scheduled sometime after Labor Day, the most likely dates being Sept. 5 or 11.
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.
“There’s a lot of interest in what happened and it’s a very good way to make it all public,” Jager said.
“It provides an opportunity for the community to know what happened,” Gallegos said. “It also provides an opportunity for the officers to educate the community on what happened and why it happened.”
The coroner’s inquest into Moore’s death is the second such procedure to take place in Humboldt County since the 2000 inquest into the shooting death of Harold Johannsen by former Eureka Police Officer Mark Victors in the parking lot at the Eureka Mall.
The results of the Johannsen inquest determined that the shooting was justified.
Jager will preside over the inquest and Bob Hickock is the attorney who will conduct the questioning of witnesses.
“I know him well and he’s well respected by the law enforcement community,” Jager said.
Hickock worked as an investigator with the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office prior to putting himself through law school and working as a deputy DA in the office. Following his time as a deputy in Humboldt County, Hickock worked as a deputy DA in Mendocino County, Jager said.
He said he also hired Hickock for the Johannsen inquest.
“He’s been one of those people above reproach (who just has) tremendous integrity,” Jager said.
So far, Jager said 45 witnesses, including forensic specialists, friends of Moore’s, all the involved officers and members of the Critical Incident Response Team, have been subpoenaed.
“It’s difficult; there’s some reluctance by the officers who were involved which is understandable,” he said, adding that all the involved officers have hired legal representation.
“There are some people from (the) mental health (department) that have been subpoenaed,” Jager said.
But, he said they are somewhat “guarded” because of the confidentiality of much of the information to which they are privy.
Jager said Moore’s friends have not expressed reluctance to testify, but some are difficult to find.
As he is presiding over the inquest, Jager said he and Hickock have been meeting to discuss what questions should be asked.
“(Hickock will) be asking all the questions, but there might be something else submitted from the jury or (me) in written form,” Jager said.
The jury will be made up of 12 jurors and at least two alternates; at the end of the inquest they will deliberate.
“They’ll determine the manner and cause of death based on the testimony and they’ll also determine whether the shooting was justified,” Jager said. “It’s not so much a verdict, but findings.”
Once the findings come in, a report will be submitted to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office. The DA has the authority to decide if charges will be filed, and against whom.
“Nothing that’s presented in the inquest can be used in a criminal or civil trial,” Jager said.
Jager said in the manner of how other trials are conducted, neither cameras nor tape recorders will be allowed in the courtroom.
“I’m trying to keep it as nonpolitical as possible and nonthreatening as possible,” Jager said.
Cameras, he said, can be “perceived” as threatening.
“I’m just hoping it goes smoothly,” Jager said.
Once a date is set in September, jury selection will start and the inquest will immediately follow. It is expected to last from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for three to four days and is open to the public.
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