TS - State of mind

State of mind

Friends of Cheri Lyn Moore questioned during grand jury proceedings that led to charges of involuntary manslaughter against top Eureka police officials seem to disagree over whether her death might have been, as a defense expert insisted, suicide by cop.

An expert provided by Lt. Tony Zanotti, SWAT team commander on April 14, 2006, told the grand jury that Moore showed a number of signs that she was suicidal and that she intended for police to kill her. Expert George Williams said that any non-suicidal suspect faced with three armed policemen would have surrendered.

”The police weren't out there fishing for this,” Williams told the grand jury under questioning by Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos. “She initiated this action.”

Zanotti and former Police Chief Dave Douglas were brought up on involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the 2006 incident after a criminal grand jury found the SWAT team acted without warrants and failed to adequately supervise the operation.

Moore was shot dead by officers who stormed her apartment after a 2 1/2-hour standoff, during which Moore threw objects out her window, brandished a flare gun, made threats and blared music.

Moore had called county mental health workers who alerted police to her threats to burn down her apartment building at 516 G St. She was reportedly despondent over the anniversary of her son's death and agitated from not taking her medication.

Moore may also have been gravely confused over the police activity that was unfolding around her. Moore's friend Marcus

Smith told the grand jury he talked to Moore several times that day. He was on a cell phone with Moore as police were arriving, and was later told by a member of the negotiating team to hang up.

”And she didn't believe that they were real cops out there,” Smith said. “She thought it was the landlord trying to break in and have sex with her. And I indeed told her, 'No, they're real cops out there.'”

Moore had previously filed a suit alleging sexual harassment by her landlord.

Smith said he left the scene and called 911 on his way to Arcata. He told a dispatcher that Moore would surrender if she was brought some cigarettes.

”The lady doesn't want to die,” Smith said he told her. “She just wants me to bring her a cigarette and I can walk her down.”

The dispatcher transferred him to Eureka dispatch. When Smith got back to Eureka, he testified, he told Officer Wayne Cox that Moore wanted cigarettes, and felt there was some hope the situation would end peacefully.

Other testimony suggested Moore may have been suicidal for some time. Fellow resident and friend Brenda Bernier said Moore would sometimes get agitated, and she would calm her down. Bernier said she didn't know anything was wrong that day until she saw officers approaching Moore's apartment door, and learned that Moore had a flare gun and had threatened to burn down the building.

After otherwise general testimony, Gallegos thanked her for testifying. Then Bernier said something that seemed to surprise the DA and the jurors.

”The only thing that she told me is she would never leave the apartment alive,” Bernier said.

Bernier added that Moore had told her that before April 14, 2006, when she was reportedly having trouble with her landlord.

Detective Neil Hubbard said that when his crew went to investigate the shooting scene, he found some particles, and a small burn mark, on the floor outside Moore's apartment door which were later determined to be from a misfire of a less-than-lethal weapon one of the SWAT officers had been carrying. He also found a note taped to her door, or on the floor near the door, and read the text to the court.

”My friend sits in the camp chair when I leave the house. Now this is -- you'll have a legal registered 9 mm pointed at you and we can legally shoot you. Not hard to miss. Don't know -- you don't know me. Cheri is not stupid and good aim,” the note read, Hubbard said.

But he also said there were several other scribbled notes strewn around the apartment.
John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or jdriscoll@times-standard.com.
John Driscoll/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 02/28/2008 01:24:35 AM PST