BERKELEY -- Officer conduct on the night Kayla Xavier Moore died in a struggle with police was "extreme, unreasonable and outrageous," claims a lawsuit filed Feb. 12 by attorney John Burris. Moore was a 41-year-old transgender woman suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California on behalf of Arthur Moore, Kayla Moore's father, names the city of Berkeley and eight police officers as defendants.
The matter must be litigated "so that justice is given to (Moore) and her family by the wrongful taking of her life," Burris said in a phone interview.
Police reports recount the events leading to Moore's death: On the night of Feb. 12, 2013, Moore was off her prescription medication and acting irrationally. Her roommate called 911 expecting Moore would be placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.
Police responded and, finding a San Francisco warrant for a Xavier Moore, decided to arrest her. (The lawsuit states that the warrant was for a 60-year-old Xavier Moore; Kayla Xavier Moore was 41.)
When police tried to handcuff the 347-pound Moore, she resisted, ending up face down on a futon with a number of police officers straddling her in order to place her in wrist and ankle restraints.
During the restraint she stopped breathing and died. The coroner concluded that Moore died from "acute combined drug intoxication," obesity and an enlarged heart.
The lawsuit, however, alleges that she died "as a result of the officers' unwarranted and excessive use of force."
Calling Moore's treatment "outrageous," Burris said, "Police were called to help to provide services, yet when they get there, instead of treating her like an impaired person needing help ... they tried to get criminal charges on her by looking to see if there was a warrant outstanding for her so they could take her to jail."
Burris said he wants to know, "how are the officers trained to handle people that are under the influence or emotionally impaired and did they follow this training in this case?"
The lawsuit states that instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, officers' actions "frightened and confused" Moore. It says they failed to evaluate Moore for a 72-hour psychiatric hold and claims that the city failed to properly train officers to evaluate people with mental health conditions.
The lawsuit further critiques the way Moore, who was obese, was placed facedown on the futon. It says she was "heard screaming, 'Get off of me,' as (she) desperately struggled to breathe under the combined body weight of the officers pushing (her) against the mattress."
Burris said, "It is common knowledge, if you have an obese person, that you do not put them on their stomach. You will, in essence, compress their diaphragm. There's a lot of data out here to show that people will asphyxiate."
The lawsuit questions whether Moore's status as a transgender woman was a factor in the officers' behavior toward her. The lawsuit will "give Kayla a voice and (other transsexuals) and let them know the laws protect them as well," Burris said.
A Berkeley representative said the city had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment. Berkeley Police Capt. Cynthia Harris told this newspaper last year that officers acted properly, trying to de-escalate the situation before attempting to handcuff Moore.
Maria Moore, Kayla Moore's sister, said the lawsuit is "a validation of what you know is the reality."
Also on Feb. 12, some 30 activists led by the group Berkeley Copwatch marched from the Gaia Building on Allston Way, where Moore died, to a Police Review Commission meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center, demanding action against the officers involved.
They were told at the meeting that the PRC staff recently completed an investigation into Moore's death.
That report will trigger hearings on Feb. 19 and 20, when the commission will interview involved officers and their representatives behind closed doors. Commissioners will sustain or dismiss allegations of improper conduct against the officers.
The public can learn which allegations are sustained, but won't know which officers are involved due to state laws protecting police confidentiality.