Ts - 04/28/2006 Shooting: ”Legal and lawful”

TS Shooting: ”Legal and lawful” 04/28/2006

EUREKA — It almost worked.

In his first public statements since Cheri Lyn Moore was killed by police April 14, Police Chief David Douglas said the two-hour plus standoff nearly ended like so many welfare calls they respond to — with no one being hurt.

He said SWAT officers were able to forcibly enter her apartment and reach a hallway leading to the room with Moore inside. Her hands were empty. Then, Moore, 48, picked up the flare gun and aimed. Two officers fired the lethal shots. She was hit nine times.

“The really sad part here is she made a choice to pick up a weapon,” Douglas said Thursday. “It should have, it could have, stopped like so many others have.”

Douglas said he received a verbal statement that the shooting was legal from the multi-agency Critical Incident Response Team on Wednesday after their review of officer statements, autopsy reports and physical evidence from the scene.

“All the pieces in there were consistent, one with another,” he said.

“The actions were legal and lawful.”

Douglas noted this was a beginning step. A written report is still to come. The District Attorney's Office will review the case.

“This is not a final conclusion,” Douglas said.

And, he said, the findings don't lessen the impact of Moore's death.

“Does it make it less of a tragedy for the family? No,” Douglas said.

“Does it change where the community is concerned? No.”

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said in a written statement Thursday that he is holding off judgment on whether the shooting was justified until the final report is complete.

Douglas became visibly shaken at times during the press conference as he described a detailed timeline of the events leading up to the shooting and the decision to enter the apartment. He said the shooting was difficult for all involved, and that he stood by his officers.

“It's important for the community to know that the officers were doing the right thing and doing their best to do the right thing,” Douglas said. “The officers who have been involved in this incident, like the family, will continue to suffer trauma from this for a long period of time.”

The chief touched on the lack of a crisis response team — a collaboration between law enforcement and mental health officials. He said if there was any silver lining, it was the open community dialogue about the need.

“This is one of the things we've been hoping to see for a long time,” Douglas said. “To help people get back on their medications. To help with early intervention.”
Mental health officials do aid police by providing some information on welfare check subjects who may have mental health issues, but they're not able to share everything. In this case, they informed police Moore would be “extremely hostile” toward law enforcement, dispatch logs show.

“Regulations reduce what they can tell us,” Douglas said. “And we go with whatever information we have.”

Three “parallel” attempts to resolve the incident were developed once the call escalated from a welfare check to a brandishing weapon call.

Contacting Moore was one attempt. Douglas said the negotiators filled her answering machine with messages. The SWAT team entry was another attempt.

Police did make two contacts by phone, Douglas said. One lasted 15 seconds. The other was the utterance of a profanity and ended in a hang-up. He said police had been called to Moore's apartment before, but could not provide details.

At first there was some confusion about Moore's weapon, Douglas said. One of the two officers who initially responded to the welfare check said he saw a flare gun and the other said he saw a handgun. When the landlord initially unlocked the door for police, Moore aimed the flare gun at them from the end of a hallway while partially covered by a wall. The landlord was told to run, Douglas said.

He also addressed some of the public comments that questioned whether a flare gun was a dangerous weapon.

“Flare guns can be very deadly,” Douglas said. “If at close range I was going to be hit in the shoulder with something, let's say it was the shoulder, would I rather get hit with a bullet or a flare gun? I'd take the bullet.”

He said police believed there was a “strong likelihood” that Moore would fire the flare gun. He also mentioned that there were reports of another gun being in the room. No other weapons were found.

Others were in the apartment building, including a person who — in case of any fire — would have had to be carried out. Police had to take them into consideration in evaluating force options and what would happen if the flare gun was fired, Douglas said.

That led incident commanders to the third option of having spotters at different locations watching Moore and when they saw her hands were empty they would make the call to enter.

“The option that arose, arose suddenly and frankly arose a little quicker than I might have even expected,” Douglas said. “It arose quickly.”

Douglas said Officer Rocky Harpham and Sgt. Michael Johnson fired the fatal shots from a rifle and a semiautomatic shotgun. A third officer, Tim Jones, fired non-lethal shots from an air-compressed gun that shoots pellets. None had been involved in previous officer-involved shootings. Lt. Tony Zanotti was the tactical commander on the scene.

“The officers were following the directions and the orders they were given,” Douglas said. “They entered with the hope of catching Cheri Moore with her hands free and being able to resolve this.”

The chief said that when officers entered, Moore's hands were still empty but she grabbed the “loaded and cocked” flare gun when she saw them coming and began to turn toward the officers. They fired.

Both officers were put on leave, but are able to return to full duty this weekend.

“I am ultimately responsible,” Douglas said of the incident.

He also touched on criticism that the department wasn't releasing information quickly enough.

“To speculate, without having some knowledge, particularly when we're trying to find out ourselves exactly what happened, is not the way,” Douglas said.

Douglas spoke to Moore's son regarding the response team's information Wednesday afternoon. He said he wouldn't demonize Moore.

“The family deserves better,” Douglas said. “I'm not planning to go down that path.”

When questioned why police stopped a friend of Moore's from talking to her by cell phone, Douglas said they wanted to use their own negotiators. They later altered her line so she could only receive calls from police.

“It's not that every time we do something it goes the way that we like,” Douglas said. “I wish that things would always go the way that we like. But they don't. I work with terrific people who work very, very, very hard to do the right thing. To try to protect people. To try to make people better.”

“It's just really sad, no matter how it happened,” he said.

Part 1 :: Part 2 :: Part 3 :: Part 4 :: Part 5 WATCH VIDEO

Chris Durant and Kimberly Wear - The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 04/28/2006 05:10:00 AM PDT

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