by Heather Muller, 9/11/2007
Public officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Eureka Reporter last week that a criminal grand jury will be convened to look into the death of Cheri Moore, a mentally ill woman who was shot and killed by officers from the Eureka Police Department in 2006.
The officials said Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos assigned veteran prosecutor Arnie Klein to impanel the grand jury, which would determine whether charges should be filed against law enforcement personnel involved in the incident.
EPD Chief Garr Nielsen confirmed Tuesday that he had discussed with Gallegos “in general terms the possibility of a grand jury” in the Moore case, adding that he was not necessarily opposed to the idea.
Nielsen said that in Oregon, where he previously worked, all cases in which a death resulted from police use of force were reviewed by a grand jury.
“It’s common practice in my view,” he said, “but my impression is that it’s not common here. That gives me some level of trepidation about it if it’s unusual for a case to be reviewed by a grand jury.”
Were a grand jury impaneled, Nielsen said, it would be his “clear expectation” that its purpose would be to conduct “a very fair and objective review of the incident without any slant toward securing a criminal indictment against any police officers involved. ...”
“I think to bring closure we should look at the case as carefully and dispassionately as possible. If the grand jury could accomplish that in an unbiased manner, then I don’t necessarily have any objection to it.”
He said it would, however, be “extremely detrimental to this community if there was any kind of dog-and-pony show that laid out these officers who were just doing their jobs.”
A criminal grand jury typically consists of 19 community members. Its proceedings take the place of a preliminary hearing, in which a judge determines whether a case brought by the District Attorney’s Office will proceed to trial.
Gallegos would neither confirm nor deny the reports, but said by e-mail Tuesday, “This community is entitled to an impartial finding, whether it is by me or by a grand jury,” noting that “continued hype” surrounding the incident has both hindered and delayed the process.
“This incident is going to take a long time to heal,” Gallegos wrote. “I believe we will come out better for it, but it will take time. But the only way that can happen is if we work to set aside the passions and prejudices that so often dominate our discussions of things and work toward patience, compassion and understanding for all people.”
Moore, 48, was killed in her Eureka apartment on April 14, 2006, after she brandished a flare gun during an approximately two-hour standoff with the EPD.
Nielsen reiterated Tuesday that he believed his officers acted appropriately in the incident.
In conclusion, Gallegos wrote, “I believe Cheri Moore’s death was/is a symptom of other bigger issues that our community has and is faced with. What the diagnosis is will ultimately be decided by others.”
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