On the night of February 12th of last year, Kayla (Xavier) Moore, a transgendered woman of color living with schizophrenia, experienced a mental health episode at her Gaia Building apartment. Berkeley Police officers went to her apartment. There was a struggle and Moore stopped breathing. Although the police did call for an ambulance, none of them attempted to restore her breathing. The 41-year old Kayla Moore was taken to Alta Bates Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:34am. This case represents a crystallization of things wrong with the way the Berkeley Police Department is currently operating, as well as the way oversight mechanisms are functioning.
Berkeley Copwatch has conducted a People’s Investigation into this in-custody death. Our report can be read here.
To protest the Police Review Commission’s inability, or unwillingness, to take any action that would make people safer from police in the year since Moore’s death, Berkeley Copwatch will be holding a rally and vigil at 6pm on Wednesday, February 12th at the Gaia Building, 2116 Allston Way, between Shattuck and Oxford. We will march to the Police Review Commission’s meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street, at the corner of Ashby and Ellis. The PRC meeting is at 7pm, and we will be holding a speak-out there.
We embarked upon our investigation immediately after we became aware of Kayla’s death, motivated by the BPD’s release of virtually no information, and the seriousness of what occurred. With the indispensible involvement of Kayla’s grieving family, who have been deeply involved throughout this entire process, and support of many community members, we conducted an investigation into this in-custody death. Numerous requests were made under the Public Records Act for dispatch records, various policies, radio transmissions, call for service logs, and officer’s reports. All but the policy requests were denied. The police repeatedly refused to release basic information under the guise of their “investigating” Kayla’s death. The BPD kept the public in a state of information blackout.
It would have stayed this way, except for public pressure. The BPD investigation report into Moore’s death was only released after demonstrations, and Kayla’s family and a number of community members going before the City Council to demand its release. You can read the BPD’s report here: www.scribd.com/bcopwatch.
There were two other people in Moore’s apartment that night: a friend of hers, and another individual acting as her caregiver. Her friend called the police believing that Kayla was in need of assistance and an evaluation, as she was undergoing a mental health crisis.
After running an ID check on her, the officers found a warrant for a “Xavier Moore,” but with a birthdate that would have put her 20 years older than she was. This warrant was not confirmed by the officers on the scene, a procedure that is usually performed to ensure the warrant is for the right individual.
The police had done previous welfare checks on Moore, and had in fact convinced her in the past to voluntarily seek assistance. The police knew of her issues, and she had no history of violence. The police spoke to Moore, and she was clearly in crisis. According to the police, she was not violent and made no threats.
Despite the unconfirmed warrant, the lead officer decided that since they were arresting Moore’s friend on a warrant, “we might as well take him,” referring to Moore. The officers were unconcerned with the fact that she in mental distress. They did not deescalate the situation in a way that could easily have led to a very different outcome that night.
Having decided to arrest Kayla, two officers went “hands on,” and grabbed her. According to them, Kayla attempted to pull away and a struggle occurred. More officers arrived to help restrain the 347-pound Moore, and she ended up with several officers on top of her. After wrangling her so she was facedown, she stopped breathing.
Witnesses reported to Berkeley Copwatch that after the police arrived, they heard a struggle with much noise, banging, and screaming – then abrupt silence. Although the police said there was a disturbance that night, witnesses did not confirm a disturbance before the police arrived.
The importance of this investigation is that we have a genuinely independent report to move forward with. This is a report with interviews, analysis, and recommendations.
We have identified multiple issues that need to be addressed. The unnecessary escalation of the situation by the BPD, and the inability or unwillingness to understand that this was a mental health situation, not a violent encounter, was a critical aspect of Kayla’s death. The excessive use of force and the failure to disengage when it may have been clear that Kayla was in respiratory distress raise serious questions about the BPD’s procedures. The lack of a legal basis to arrest Kayla; the failure of the officers on the scene to gather information about Moore’s state; the lack of medical response when she stopped breathing; these are all significant problems with the way the BPD interacted with Moore.
There has been a total failure of the city’s Police Review Commission to adequately investigate this incident. The PRC is mired in restrictive legal processes and faces endless threats of litigation on the part of the Berkeley Police Association, the “union” representing BPD officers. Having a former police attorney as their administrative secretary doesn’t help. The PRC is unable to honestly examine police officer misconduct or support community efforts for justice.
Additionally, the lack of an adequate police investigation into her death makes us wonder about the seriousness of their investigation. This aggravates every problem that occurred, and makes it easier for them to occur in the future.
These are a few of the issues we identified. There are others and we invite you to read about them.
Throughout this process, there has been a consistent dehumanization of Kayla – such as refusing to release even her name, Moore being called “it” by a police officer – as well as disrespect and hostility towards her family. One example of this was when one of Moore’s family members was prevented from speaking at a City Council meeting and removed by police, some of whom were the same officers who were involved in Moore’s death.
We have made a number of recommendations regarding policy and procedure, for the City of Berkeley and the BPD; as well as findings regarding the individual officers present that night.
The City’s Peace and Justice Commission has recommended to the City Council that they accept the report, and that they direct the City Manager and BPD to consider the policy and procedure recommendations we have made.
One of these is having the City identify a civilian point of contact for mental health emergencies, and keeping the police out of these situations except where a dangerous weapon or imminent danger is present. The City’s Commission on Disability has also endorsed this recommendation.
Alternatives to the police when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis need to be explored. In our report we have resources for people interested in learning safe and effective ways of communicating and responding to people undergoing mental health crises that don’t involved violence or the police.
City resources need to be directed away from hardware for police, and for the establishment of an emergency mental health system that doesn’t use police as first responders. The Berkeley Police Association wants TASERs for the BPD, and has pushed them using this and other mental-health related situations as good reasons to have them. This is highly disingenuous. TASERs do not reduce police violence. The problem here is police aggression, not a lack of equipment.
Serious training protocols for de-escalation techniques, working with those with mental health issues, and transgender sensitivity are direly needed in the BPD. A clear distinction needs to be made between violent situations, and medical evaluations.