Family members of Kayla Moore say they’re still fighting for justice after her death in police custody last year. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Family members of Kayla Moore say they’re still fighting for justice after her death in police custody last year. Photo: Emilie Raguso

One year after Kayla Moore died during a police investigation into a disturbance at her downtown Berkeley home, family members and supporters are still fighting for what they say are needed changes in how local authorities handle mental health crises throughout the city.

A rally and vigil for Moore are planned Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Gaia Apartments, at 2116 Allston Way, where Moore had lived in the months preceding her death. That event will be followed at 7 p.m. by a “speakout” before the city’s Police Review Commission at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis St.

Next week, a two-day commission hearing on the circumstances surrounding Moore’s death is expected to conclude with a vote, or votes, related to what happened after police responded to Moore’s home just before midnight Feb. 12, 2013, when a friend of Moore’s, concerned about her mental and physical state, called police for help. Neither the hearing nor its outcome is open to the public because it’s considered a personnel matter, which is protected by confidentiality laws.

Last spring, however, two separate investigations found no fault with the Berkeley Police response. A internal affairs investigation concluded that officers had used “reasonable force” and had the proper “authority and probable cause” when they entered Moore’s apartment and tried to restrain her — after finding a warrant for her arrest, as well as to send her for a mental health evaluation — after she became increasingly agitated during a conversation last February.

According to the reports of officers who responded to the scene, Moore — who weighed almost 350 pounds — refused to cooperate when police told her they were taking her into custody. Officers then tried to restrain her with handcuffs and an ankle strap. Officers said Moore resisted “violently,” kicking them and trying to “buck” another officer off her waist, after falling onto the floor as she tried to pull away from police.

Shortly after the struggle, which lasted several minutes and involved six officers, one officer noticed that Moore had stopped breathing. Another officer began chest compressions until paramedics arrived. Moore was then taken to Alta Bates Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The Alameda County coroner’s office separately concluded, on April 15, 2013, that Moore’s death had been accidental, that there were no signs of trauma on her body, and that the primary cause of death had been acute combined drug intoxication in conjunction with “morbid obesity” and an abnormal enlargement of the heart.

According to the coroner’s report, as well as information collected by police, Moore had been on a several-day drug binge at the time of her death. “Toxic” levels of methamphetamine and opiates were found in her system, and she had been “behaving unusually” on the night of her death. Family members told the coroner’s office that Moore was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from breathing difficulties and high blood pressure, as well as a history of drug addition.

Moore, who identified as female, was transgender and taking estrogen, according to the coroner’s report. Police initially identified her publicly as a man, and provided her given name of Xavier Christopher Moore during their original statements.

Carl Butler, longtime boyfriend of Maria Moore, spoke about his frustration with the city’s response to his Kayla Moore death at the Police Review Commission in October. (He appears here in a brown sweatshirt.) Photo: Emilie Raguso
Carl Butler, longtime boyfriend of Maria Moore, spoke about his frustration with the city’s response to his Kayla Moore death at the Police Review Commission in October. (He appears here in a brown sweatshirt.) Photo: Emilie Raguso

Some community members question city’s mental health response

Despite the conclusions of those reports, some community members have continued to question how the Berkeley Police Department handles mental health calls, and whether local police have the proper training to deal with those in mental health crises.

Along with several members of Moore’s family, members of Berkeley Copwatch and the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley have kept the issue in the forefront, organizing a variety of rallies and events last year related to the city’s response to mental health calls. Berkeley Copwatch posted online the police investigation documents that were made publicly available after Moore’s death, as well as their own analysis of that investigation. Last May, the groups held a public workshop to look at the city’s mental health response to people in crisis, and also showed up in force at a Police Review Commission meeting in October, when they presented the findings of their analysis, to ask for changes in Berkeley’s approach to mental health services.

About 20 members of the public spoke during that meeting to express concerns about a range of issues related to emergency mental health response in general, and also in connection to Moore’s death. Some asked why police had decided to make physical contact with Moore; why they hadn’t waited for mental health service providers to arrive to try to diffuse the situation; and whether officers should be equipped with more mental health-related training. Others urged the adoption of a different city-wide response to mental health calls to take officers out of the equation altogether for those in crisis, or at least ensure they’re not the first point of contact.

Local authorities have said the city is well equipped to handle these types of calls, however.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan has previously described the department as “a progressive leader in providing comprehensive and compassionate police response to persons suffering mental crisis.” His department works closely with the city’s mental health providers, he said in a police newsletter published last fall, and has been working to increase the number of officers who receive specialized training to identify and respond to people in crisis.

The department kicked off that specialized training program for officers in 2012, and worked to ramp it up last year. As of this month, 21 members of the department have received that training, including one lieutenant, five sergeants (36%) and 15 officers (10%), eight of whom are on patrol, according to program coordinator officer Jeff Shannon.

There is now at least one trained officer or sergeant on every patrol team, said Shannon, via email. The department’s initial goal is to have 20% of all patrol sergeants and officers receive the training.

And this month, also according to the police newsletter, the police department is extending some of that training to dispatchers, by sending them to a session organized by the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services and the Oakland Police Department, to help teach dispatchers how to recognize mental health needs even before officers arrive.

The Board of Inquiry

The Police Review Commission’s Board of Inquiry into the Moore death is scheduled to run Feb. 18-19. That inquiry came about after a vote by the commission to take another look at the death, separate from the other two investigations. Generally, commission investigations can only begin when an outside party makes a complaint but, in the case of an in-custody death, the board is able to vote to take action on its own.

As part of that process, the board directed Byron Norris, the city staff member appointed to it, to complete his own investigation into Moore’s death. During the upcoming hearing, he could present his findings, and various people related to the investigation will be available to testify. The commission could consider a range of issues, from how police responded in this case to whether policies or procedures may need to be adjusted in the future, as part of the hearing. Those proceedings, as previously noted, are confidential.

Commission Chairman George Perezvelez said he’s aware that the strict rules about confidentiality can be difficult for people who are seeking transparency, solutions and changes.

“I know that it is frustrating to people, and I get it. I understand it,” he said. “But the best thing for people to do is to take a breather and a step back, and allow the process to work because, if we don’t, we can endanger the possibility of the process working.”

Speaking generally — not about this specific case — Perezvelez said, if needed, the commission could, hypothetically, later take a look at city procedures or general orders, such as those relating to mental health assessments or the treatment of transgender people. Those discussions would be noticed publicly and people would be able to comment on them as part of the process. Any specific decisions about the Moore case, however, will remain confidential under state and federal laws.

Moore’s sister, Maria, and father, Arthur, spoke to the Berkeley City Council last year. Carl Butler, Maria Moore’s longtime boyfriend, stands behind them. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Moore’s sister, Maria, and father, Arthur, spoke to the Berkeley City Council last year. Carl Butler, Maria Moore’s longtime boyfriend, stands behind them. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Sister: “There’s no closure”

Moore’s sister, Maria, said Tuesday that she has been disappointed in the city’s process related to Kayla’s death. She said that, though she understands that there are rules about confidentiality, it’s still been hard to see the lack of response from the city.

“They have said nothing,” she said. “Right now they’re part of the problem, and not part of the solution.”

Moore described the lack of mental health services as a “nationwide epidemic,” exacerbated by limited funding and training. Ideally, she said, she’d like to see Berkeley with a mobile crisis unit available to respond to mental health calls, to remove police from that process altogether.

Moore said she didn’t think police should have put their hands on her sister, who was inside her own apartment at the time of the call. She said they should not have been checking warrants for someone in the midst of a mental health crisis. And, further, she said someone should have provided breath support during the CPR efforts done after her sister stopped breathing. (Maria Moore said an officer did chest compressions, but did not blow into her sister’s mouth.)

Moore said she’d like to see some of the officers who responded the night her sister died disciplined or even fired, adding: “That is just a dream. I’m not hopeful that will happen.”

A year after Kayla’s death, Maria Moore said the family continues to struggle.

“We’re still hurting. It’s still very painful. There’s no closure,” she said. “I cry every day. And, my dad, it’s getting to the anniversary and he’s a mess. It didn’t have to happen this way. We did our best to take care of Kayla, just to have her taken away so suddenly over something that didn’t need to happen. We’re still trying to find a way to close this and we can’t.”

Xavier (Kayla) Moore’s death: The timeline (05.06.13)
Coroner, police deliver reports on Xavier Moore death (05.03.13)
Emotional pleas prompt call for Kayla Moore report (05.01.13)
Police union: Should Berkeley have Tasers? (04.02.3013)
Anti-police demonstrators march in downtown Berkeley (03.13.13)
Berkeley Police release statement on in-custody death (02.28.13)
Name released after death in custody, cause unknown (02.22.13)
Man dies after struggle with Berkeley Police (02.13.13)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...