Judge tosses bulk of wrongful death suit against police

About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso
About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A U.S. District Court judge has rejected the majority of a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Berkeley that criticized the way police officers handled a 2013 call involving a transgender woman in a mental health crisis.

The woman, 41-year-old Kayla Moore, stopped breathing and died after police struggled with her to take her into custody. The family filed a lawsuit in 2014 taking issue with the police response, alleging excessive force and unfair treatment because Moore was transgender.

Monday, about 50 supporters of the wrongful death suit rallied outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco and pledged to continue the fight. A hearing had been scheduled for Monday where attorneys for the family believed they would be able to present arguments, but those plans changed abruptly Friday when Judge Charles R. Breyer issued a ruling that threw out the bulk of the suit.

Read complete background on the case. 


The city of Berkeley filed a motion for summary judgment in June essentially arguing that the family had neither the evidence nor the facts to back up the wrongful death suit. The city says officers used “minimal force” and have “qualified immunity” under the law as to the force they did use.

Friday, Breyer issued a ruling agreeing with much of the city’s argument.

He said officers were essentially justified in trying to take Moore into custody — because she “was clearly in the midst of a paranoid schizophrenic mental health crisis,” according to a police officer’s deposition — and that there was no evidence officers used unreasonable force when she struggled during detention.

“The force used – though fatal when combined with an enlarged heart – was reasonable based on what the officers could know at the time,” he wrote. “She did not cry out for air. And when Moore relented, the officers relented.”

He continued: “Every loss of life hurts, but not every loss of life violates the Fourth Amendment. As hard as that may be to accept, it is the law.”

Some issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act remain, and the judge is set to rule on those at a later date.

Maria Moore, Kayla Moore's sister, looks on as attorney Adante Pointer addresses the crowd of supporters. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Maria Moore, Kayla Moore’s sister, looks on as attorney Adante Pointer addresses the crowd of supporters. Photo: Emilie Raguso

On Monday, Maria Moore, sister of Kayla Moore, described the process and the ruling as “frustrating,” and said it didn’t seem like the judge understood what her family believes to be the main issues in the case.


“We want to see justice for this…. Don’t dismiss it just because it’s a black trans woman who’s mentally ill who happened to be obese and a bunch of other things,” she said. “This was a mental health call. This wasn’t a call to arrest someone.”

She said she was still grappling to make sense of what had happened though the family is determined to move ahead with the legal issues that remains related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I don’t know what was going through the judge’s mind,” she said, describing Breyer as seemingly “far removed from a lot of what’s happening” on the national level as far as problems being raised about equity and policing.

Moore said she believes this case has the potential to change the way police interact with people who are mentally disabled, and said the fight will continue. She hopes to get the city to look more closely — during its upcoming budget process — at how it allocates resources such as mental health services, and how much training its police officers get in de-escalation tactics.

It has been difficult for the family to heal and move on, she added.

“You can’t move forward because you’re constantly stuck,” said Moore. “There is no closure.”


About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso
About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso
About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso
About 50 people held a rally Monday morning in support of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Kayla Moore. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Adante Pointer, legal counsel for Moore’s family, said he had been surprised to get the judge’s ruling Friday because he believed he would have a chance, during the hearing scheduled for Monday, to put forward his arguments before the judge made up his mind.

But that didn’t happen.

“The judge dismissed the large majority of the case,” Pointer said Monday morning. “He gave everyone 30 days to review the order and then figure out what the path is going to be going forward.”

Pointer said the judge basically took the city’s “latest version of events as the truth… but we dispute that because we felt as if the city has been shifting their stories.”

According to police depositions, an officer initially thought there was a warrant for Moore because of a hit in the database found during a records check, then later decided to take Moore into custody for a mental health evaluation.

Pointer took issue with what he described as the city’s changing stories and said the family feels officers violated their training and their oath as far as their behavior during the call at Moore’s downtown Berkeley apartment.

“We’re reviewing the judge’s order, figuring out what to do,” Pointer said. “We intend to ask for a court date.”

Related:
City seeks rejection of wrongful death lawsuit against police (09.23.16)
Op-ed: Let’s not forget Kayla Moore (02.09.16)
Mental health calls #1 drain on Berkeley police resources (04.16.15)
‘Double header’ Berkeley council meetings set for Tuesday, 2 protests also planned (12.15.14)
Community comes out for NAACP forum on alleged racial profiling by police in Berkeley (05.12.14)
Berkeley slapped with lawsuit over Kayla Moore’s death (02.14.14)
Vigil, rally mark anniversary of in-custody death (02.12.14)
Xavier (Kayla) Moore’s death: The timeline (05.06.13)
Coroner, police deliver reports on Xavier Moore death (05.13.13)
Emotional pleas prompt call for Kayla Moore report (05.01.13)
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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