TS - 04/18/2006 Questions swirl around standoff shooting

TS Questions swirl around standoff shooting 04/18/2006
The Times-Standard Rhonda Rael
Article Launched: 04/18/2006 04:30:00 AM PDT

EUREKA -- Coroner Frank Jager may call a public inquest to help answer the many questions about why a SWAT team shot and killed a mentally ill Eureka woman after a brief standoff Friday.
”It's something I'm considering,” Jager said Monday of the death of 48-year-old Cheri Lyn Moore. She was shot numerous times when officers entered her apartment and saw her with a weapon, likely a flare gun.

The Times-Standard has already received numerous letters criticizing police for killing Moore, who reportedly was distraught and had not taken her medication. Friends said she always became depressed around the birthday of her dead son.

Moore was killed after a standoff of about two hours. She had been yelling and tossing items out of her second-floor apartment window above Heuer's Florist.

Police said they were unable to contact Moore during the standoff. But one onlooker speaking with her by cell phone was told not to talk to her any longer.

During a standoff in Eureka in 1997, police blocked off streets in Old Town and waited 24 hours while convincing a mentally unstable man to leave the apartment where he was barricaded. That man, Aurelio Chacon, was armed and making threats.

Jager said he believes that as more information comes out, people will realize police acted reasonably when they shot Moore.

”My sense is there won't be a question about whether the shooting was justified,” he said. “The questions will be why they went in when they did and whether they could have used other means of force.”

He said the officers in charge during the standoff “are real level-headed people.”

But because of public concern, Jager and his staff are discussing whether to call a coroner's inquest, a rare proceeding in which a jury decides whether a shooting was justified. The jury's finding is a recommendation and not legally binding. Jager called an inquest in 2000 after a Eureka police officer shot and killed an armed man in a parking lot. The jury found the shooting was justified. During that inquest, details were made public that had previously been withheld.

”There were a lot of questions in the (earlier) case,” Jager said. “I think this is similar.”

Eureka police were issuing no new information Monday, other than to say the involved officers are on administrative leave and the investigation continues.

Jager said Moore's body was taken to Redding on Monday afternoon, and an autopsy was set for this morning. Some preliminary information was expected by late today.

The investigation is being handled by the Critical Incident Response Team, consisting of investigators from the District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, state Department of Justice and Coroner's Office.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos stressed Monday that community members can be assured of an independent, impartial review.

”We certainly realize our obligation to the community and we will carefully look into this fairly for all parties,” Gallegos said. “And unfortunately that takes longer than what some people would like who want instant answers, so we certainly ask for some patience in that regard, and some understanding.”

Gallegos said two of his investigators have been assigned to the investigation and worked through the weekend.

”We have to determine first of all whether (the shooting) was a use of lawful force,” Gallegos said. “If it's found to be unlawful, was it criminal? Our first priority is to see if any crimes were committed. That's what we're looking for.”

In recent history no Humboldt County district attorney has determined a police-involved shooting was a crime.

”It's going to be difficult no matter what we decide,” Gallegos said. “You make your decision and you live with it, and we will.”

He urged anyone with information on the incident to contact his office.

Both Gallegos and his political challenger, senior prosecutor Worth Dikeman, said this incident does not justify forming a citizen review board to scrutinize local police.

Gallegos said as long as the district attorney is independent, no review board is necessary. And Dikeman said the county does not need “another level of bureaucracy” when there is a solid system already in place.

That system includes peer review, the grand jury, the coroner's jury and possible civil action, he said.

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