ER Final nine testify at coroner's inquest 9/15/2006
by Christine Bensen-Messinger, 9/15/2006
Nine people testified during the coroner’s inquest Thursday before the jury began its deliberations just after 2:30 p.m.
Eureka Police Officer Tim Jones, who is a member of the department’s Special Weapons and Tactics team, said after suiting up at the police department, he and the other SWAT team members arrived at Cheri Lyn Moore’s apartment.
After being briefed on the incident, he said they replaced the three original responding officers.
Moore, 48, of Eureka, was shot and killed by members of the Eureka Police Department’s SWAT team after an approximately two-and-one-half hour standoff during which she brandished a flare gun.
Jones said by the time the SWAT team arrived, be believed the majority of Moore’s neighbors had been evacuated from their apartments.
“At some point I saw someone down at … (the) end of the hallway, I think he was asking if he could get out,” Jones said, adding that he “did not feel comfortable” with him walking by at that time.
While some of the SWAT members were armed with lethal weapons, Jones was armed with an FN303, which is a compressed air gun which shoots plastic projectiles with liquid in them and is considered less lethal.
In this instance, he said they were filled with pepper spray.
Jones said his team was informed of a few different scenarios depending on what occurred.
“One plan that was ultimately deployed was if the person inside could be seen with nothing in her hands we were going to be told that,” he said. “Our intention at that time was to make our way as quickly as possible (across the apartment) … giving her commands and taking physical control of her without doing harm to anybody.”
Although he had a light sound device which could have been used as a mechanism to distract Moore, Jones said he was unable to deploy it. He said he was concerned about throwing it on the floor and having it go off at the feet of his team members or tripping one of them.
He was also having trouble carrying the device and getting the safety off his gun, but was finally able to.
“I started bringing my eyes up, my head up, so I could see into the apartment and I started to bring the FN303 up to my shoulder position,” he said. “I heard a shot be fired, I didn’t really distinguish what it was and about that same time I saw who ended up being Cheri Moore moving.
“I saw her, she was facing more or less … Officer Harpham … she was moving backwards. When I heard the first shot I wasn’t sure who shot, her or us, at that time I saw her and at that time I had acquired a site and shot at her,” Jones said. “I think I heard one or two shots … and I started firing.”
When he saw her hands, Jones said they were empty.
When the incident was over, he said he saw the flare gun near a piece of furniture under the windows of her apartment.
Eureka Police Officer Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez, who is also a member of the SWAT team, said he was familiar with Moore because he had responded to her residence at least five times in the last year for a variety of calls, including some initiated by her.
When the command to enter he apartment came, he said he rammed the door open and then dropped back as the other team members entered.
“I heard shots before I ever even made entry,” Reyna-Sanchez said. “Before I even laid the ram down I heard shots.”
He said he heard at least four shots from two different weapons and when he entered the apartment he saw Moore.
“She was slumped down in a somewhat seated position,” Reyna-Sanchez said, adding that he saw the flare gun near her.
Shortly after she was shot, Jeff O’Neil, a paramedic with City Ambulance of Eureka who is also a volunteer firefighter, said he had been on standby near Moore’s apartment and was called in.
When he discovered that there was no “electrical activity” in her heart, he said he phoned St. Joseph Hospital.
“I confirmed that I could pronounce her dead,” he said.
He left her apartment approximately 12 minutes after he arrived, O’Neil said.
Although former Eureka Police Officer Robert Mengel had been called to testify, Bob Hickock, former Humboldt County deputy district attorney who questioned witnesses during the inquest, said he was unable to be present. Instead Jim Dawson, the chief investigator for the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, read transcripts of his interview with Mengel.
Deputy Humboldt County Coroner Charles Van Buskirk assisted in the reading of the transcript into the record.
Mengel, an observer for the department’s SWAT team, was on a roof across the street from Moore’s apartment and was the person who told the SWAT team her hands were free.
From early on, Mengel, who estimated his distance as 30 to 35 yards from Moore’s apartment, said for a while Moore did not seem to notice he was there.
“Initially she didn’t see me, she was dancing around with the flare gun in her hand,” he said.
When she did see him, Mengel said he addressed her.
“She shouted you can’t shoot me or don’t shoot me,” Dawson said Mengel told him in the interview.
After informing his commander that she had put her gun down for a moment, he was asked to inform them if she did it again and he did.
At that time, Mengel said he heard gunshots and lost sight of what was going on in Moore’s apartment.
Eureka Police Chief David Douglas was the last person to testify Thursday morning and said although he was not the incident commander during the standoff, he was on scene and was ultimately in charge.
“In fact I am accountable for whatever happens at the location, whether or not I have ever gone to the scene,” Douglas said.
Although he would have preferred another outcome, he has said since the beginning that he stands by his officers and what they did.
Two of the last three witnesses to testify during the final hours of the inquest included Judy Taylor, an evidence technician with EPD and Matthew Kirsten, a senior criminalist with the California Department of Justice’s lab in Eureka.
Both Taylor and Kirsten said when they were in Moore’s apartment following her death they found the flare gun, which was loaded.
“Did you notice whether or not the hammer of the flare gun was in the cocked position?” Hickock asked Taylor.
“It was,” she said.
“The flare gun was in a cocked position, the hammer was cocked back, then I checked to see if there was a cartridge,” Kirsten said.
“Was there?” Hickock asked.
“Yes, sir, there was,” he said.
Kirsten said he also tested Moore’s gun and it was functional.
He said he also tested her flare gun and one similar to hers and discovered it burned a ballistics vest, but did not penetrate it and was able to penetrate sheetrock and ignite insulation.
Although approximately 45 people were subpoenaed to testify at the inquest, there were 34 total.
“Most of the others were the officers who interviewed officers so they could come testify on their behalf if (the officers) couldn’t testify,” Van Buskirk said.
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