12.18.2007

TS - 12/11/2007 EPD, other law enforcement turn out to support Zanotti, Douglas

TS EPD, other law enforcement turn out to support Zanotti, Douglas 12/11/2007

EUREKA -- When former Police Chief David Douglas and Lt. Tony Zanotti stood in front of Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney Monday, it was clear they had local law enforcement behind them. Literally.

Nearly 20 uniformed Eureka Police Department officers, including current Chief Garr Nielsen, a host of city staff and representatives from other local law enforcement agencies, showed up at the arraignment to show support for the defendants.

”I proudly support Chief Douglas and Lt. Zanotti,” read a sign held by Mary Kirby, senior administrative assistant to the chief.

A criminal grand jury, convened last month by the District Attorney's Office, handed up indictments of involuntary manslaughter against Zanotti and Douglas for their decision-making roles in the April 2006 shooting death of Cheri Lyn Moore.

Moore, who had a history of mental illness, was shot and killed by Eureka police officers after a two-hour standoff that saw her brandish a flare gun, throw items from her second-story window and threaten to burn down the building.

Neither of the officers who fired the fatal shots were indicted.

There was not an open seat during Monday's brief hearing, which saw the arraignments continued to Feb. 21 after Feeney granted a request by the defense. Several people had to remain outside in the hallway.

Kirby said two EPD officers came to the hearing on their lunch break and the rest were off-duty, but she said the message was the same.

”We all wanted to be here to show our support,” Kirby said.

She said she felt the involuntary manslaughter charges both men are facing were unfounded. Kirby was a member of the negotiating team during the Moore standoff.

”I think it's kind of ridiculous, but I guess the grand jury can do whatever they want, but the truth will come out during the trial,” Kirby said.

Around 1 p.m., the hallway outside the courtroom started to fill up with officers in uniform, who seemed to arrive in pairs. By 1:30 p.m., the hallway was packed with EPD officers, clerical employees, police services officers and other members of the department standing shoulder to shoulder.

When Zanotti and Douglas arrived, the pair was whisked away by a bailiff, and taken through a back entrance into the courtroom. As Douglas and Zanotti filed by the assembled crowd, they received quick pats on the back and brief words of encouragement.

In addition to the host of EPD personnel on hand, there were detectives and deputies from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, an agent with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force, Humboldt County Probation Department agents and other law enforcement personnel dressed in plain clothes, with their badges on display.

”We're just here to show our support,” said Eureka Police Capt. Murl Harpham, adding that the indictments came as an “absolute” shock to the department.

Nielsen, who sat next to Zanotti during his brief court appearance, agreed that the indictments came as a shock, but said he was pleased with Monday's showing of support.

”I think it's at times like these where it's so important for us to pull together as a unit, as a group and as a law enforcement family,” Nielsen said. “We truly appreciate how difficult it is to make those decisions we have to make in those critical incidents, in those split seconds, that are often times life and death situations. It's a different thing to go back two years later and second guess what was done.”

While Nielsen said the indictments have had a sizable impact on department morale, he said he really worries about the effect the indictments will have on officers acting as decision makers in future incidents.

”My biggest fear, above everything else, is the message this kind of things sends to all my officers that are out there every day,” he said.

After the proceedings, Eureka City Manager David Tyson said the impact of the charges is reverberating beyond the EPD. He said city staff, many of whom have worked closely with Zanotti and Douglas, are concerned for their colleagues, and their friends.

”The Eureka Police Department is part of the city family, and certainly we all work together every day and support one another in our every day work lives, and we were here today to support Lt. Zanotti and former chief Douglas,” Tyson said

He said he is confident the two men will be vindicated once more information becomes available.

”We feel that once that information is presented to the public and there is a full understanding of what took place, these individuals will be found innocent of any charges,” Tyson said.

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