Grand Jury will indict two police commanders, says source (with archived video) 12/05/2007
Arraignment on involuntary manslaughter charges expected Monday
EUREKA -- The criminal grand jury convened to look into the death of Cheri Lyn Moore will hand up indictments against former Eureka Police Chief David Douglas and incident commander Lt. Tony Zanotti, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
Click Here to Watch Zanotti's testimony from the Coroner's Inquest
Zanotti and Douglas are scheduled to be arraigned Monday on charges of involuntary manslaughter, according to the source, who requested anonymity because of the secrecy of the proceedings. If convicted, Zanotti and Douglas could face up to two to four years in prison.
District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who convened the grand jury, did not immediately return a late-evening phone call on Tuesday seeking comment.
Moore, who had a history of mental illness, was shot and killed April 14, 2006, by Eureka police officers in her second-story apartment at Fifth and G streets. During the preceding two-hour standoff, Moore brandished a flare gun, threw items from her window and threatened to burn down the building.
Police have said they believed Moore had put down the flare gun when the decision was made to storm her apartment. Upon entering, officers said they came face to face with Moore, who had the flare gun aimed at them. Officers then shot Moore multiple times.
Neither of the two officers who fired the fatal shots, former EPD Officer Rocky Harpham and Sgt. Michael Johnson, were indicted by the grand jury.
Diane Karpman, an ethics columnist for the California Bar Journal, said the charges suggest jurors found an absence of appropriate leadership in the incident. She said she wasn't surprised that the officers who actually shot Moore weren't indicted, since they were following orders. However, she called an indictment of the commanding officers in such an incident highly unusual.
”It's incredibly rare,” Karpman said.
During a coroner's inquest held in September 2006, Douglas and Zanotti testified about their involvement. Zanotti is still with the Eureka Police Department, while Douglas has since retired.
Douglas testified he did not take over command at the scene, but was ultimately responsible. He said there were concerns about a fire from the flare gun, and that it could move quickly because of a crawl space above Moore's apartment.
Zanotti also testified that he believed Moore's threats to burn down the building to be real, and that they needed to be taken seriously.
”There was a determination that we would have to ... she was an immediate threat to human life, to the building, to the officers and to the civilians surrounding the area,” Zanotti said during the inquest.
Zanotti, who acted as the incident commander, testified that several plans of action were made based on Moore's actions, but there was no discussion about bringing mental health personnel to the scene.
Former Massachusetts State Police commanding officer for ballistics and expert witness Ronald R. Scott said he'd never heard of similar charges being brought against incident leaders who made decisions that led to a shooting.
Most manslaughter charges against police officers are the result of a fatal crash during a high-speed chase, or a spur-of-the moment shooting, he said. Scott said he has reviewed the Eureka case and found the circumstances substantially different.
”This is where the department had control,” Scott said. “This wasn't a spontaneous incident.”
Scott said the case, once resolved, could help other police departments train to prevent similar incidents.
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