A Dangerous Pattern

A second-by-second breakdown of an SFPD shooting of a mentally ill man of color. This didn't have to happen.

Video of Sean Moore on police body camera. (Photo by Jessica Christian)

On Jan. 6, 43-year-old Sean Moore, a lifelong resident of Oceanview in San Francisco’s southwest, began pounding on the inside wall of his house when his next-door neighbor (a man named Chou) called the San Francisco Police Department. Facts were scarce until about a week later, when Public Defender Jeff Adachi forced SFPD to release the body camera video.

“Chou,” a source of neighborhood conflict, had filed restraining orders against Moore, prohibiting Moore from harassing, intimidating, molesting, or attacking Chou, according to the officers who showed up in his stairwell. Moore had also repeatedly called police when a group of college kids, his other next-door neighbors, partied until 4 a.m.

These were typical neighborly antagonisms, usually resolved without deadly force.

In the body camera video, Moore is verbally abusive from the moment the police arrive. He curses, hurls insults, and from the perspective of the police, is wholly uncooperative. Taraval Station’s Officer Kenneth Cha and his partner, Officer Colin Patino, are intent on confronting Moore with the restraining order. Their powerful flashlights illuminate the steep, dark stairwell, blinding Moore, who spends most of the eight-minute encounter yelling and gesticulating from his upstairs landing, behind a locked burglar gate.

He was not reasonable or peaceful, though he was unarmed throughout the encounter. Although Moore’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were no secret in the tightly knit community, it is not yet clear if Cha, who shot Moore and sprayed him with Mace, or Patino, who beat him with a baton, had prior knowledge of Moore’s condition. But not only does Moore have a longstanding mental illness, he is 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, and Black, and the cops describe him as bigger and taller than his actual size.

After being shot twice, once in the groin and once in the stomach, Moore underwent emergency abdominal surgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General. He was in critical condition for about a week, then was transferred to a county jail pod at 850 Bryant St. Medical complications resulted. Moore was sent back to S.F. General. A preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 2. He is charged with making criminal threats, making threats against an officer, felony assault and battery on an officer, and resisting arrest.

Ken Blackmon, Moore’s brother, told me that Sean is anxious to go to court to resolve the issue.

Moore had complained of being constantly cold and in leg shackles at the hospital. His family was concerned about what they considered an early discharge from the hospital. To complicate matters for the family, Cleo Moore, Sean’s mother, fell and broke her left arm, right hand, and thumb. The family has had very limited access to Sean as a result of decisions made to deny access at the hospital.

As a founding member of San Franciscans for Police Accountability, an organization of policy wonks and street activists that has made a name for itself bird-dogging the San Francisco Police Commission, we have been on the front lines of the Moore incident. After a very thorough review of the body camera video, the inescapable conclusion is that two poorly trained cops are wholly responsible for the outcome, though I will argue less as individuals than as products of the culture, training, and policies that have wound them up as tight little mechanisms of power and authority and sent them out to patrol our streets.

The facts suggest that Cha and Patino did not follow the new use-of-force policy to create time and distance and make sanctity of life a priority. Nor did they follow any of the crisis intervention policies recently adopted to great fanfare by the police commission. There is a pattern here, an old one, one that SFPD must soon change.

Officers read the restraining order to Sean Moore. (SFPD via San Francisco Public Defender’s Office)

 

THE PATTERN

The pattern is: A physically powerful male with a mental illness is shot during an incident that would probably have been resolved peacefully, were it not for his Black skin. The pattern is widespread throughout the nation.

In its report on the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department, the U.S. Justice Department found a “pattern of unreasonable force … when interacting with … people with mental health conditions.”

“The Fourth Amendment requires that an individual’s mental health condition … be considered when determining the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force,” the report noted.

It continued: “These incidents indicate … insufficient sensitivity to, and training about, the limitations of those with mental health conditions.… Officers view mental illness as narcotic intoxication, or worse, willful defiance. They apply excessive force … not accounting for the possibility that the subjects may not understand their commands or be able to comply with them. And they have been insufficiently trained on tactics that would minimize force when dealing with individuals who are in mental health crisis.”

SFPD — despite the recent adoption of a crisis-intervention training policy — shares these failings. The shooting of Sean Moore is a huge black eye for the department. Tragically, SFPD has reacted by blaming its incompetent victim.

The following is an imprecise, abridged transcript, with my comments in brackets.

12:16:56 Body Camera Audio Begins.

Officer Cha: “What’s going on?”
Moore: “What’s goin’ on? What the fuck you show up this time of the morning about?”
Officer Cha: “I got a call for service, are you OK?”
Moore: “I don’t give a fuck, I didn’t call you. … Quit showing up at my house, and I didn’t call you.”
Officers: “Whoa! Whoa! Chill out!”
Moore: “Get the fuck off my stair. Get the fuck off my stairs!”
Officers, interrupting: “Chill out! Chill out!”
Moore: “I don’t give a fuck who called you. I just put my garbage out. …”
Officer Cha: “I got a call. What the hell’s your problem? … Hey, don’t spit on me!”
Moore: “I didn’t spit on you!”
Officer Cha: “You did spit on me.”
Moore: “Fuck you. I didn’t spit on you! Get the fuck off my stairs.”

[Since Moore repeats his request that Cha and Patino “Get the fuck off my stairs,” so many times, we will abbreviate it to GTFOMS.]

12:17:31 Police Lose Control.
Moore: “GTFOMS. GTFOMS!”
Officer Patino: “Are you going to listen to what I have to say?”

[Patino attempts de-escalating, Moore verbally complies but remains aggressive.]

Moore, calmly: “Say your shit and get the fuck on, bitch.”
Officers: “Are you Sean Wendell Moore?”
Officer: “Do you know that you have a …”
Moore, interrupting: “Do you know that you’re a fucking liar, nigger? I don’t give a fuck about that shit. I just put my garbage out, GTFOMS.”
Officers: “No, we’re not …”
Moore: “Yeah, you’re getting off my stair. …”
Officers, escalating: “Or else what?”
Moore: “Or I’ll remove you. …”
Officers, escalating further: “Are you threatening us?”
Moore: “I ain’t threatening shit. GTFOMS.”
Officers, doubling down: “You’re threatening us. I’m not leaving.” Moore: “You’re going to leave. I ain’t threatening shit. GTFOMS.” Officers: “You are.”

12:18:08 Police Hear “Threats.”

At this point, 1 minute, 12 seconds into the encounter, Moore is still behind his locked gate on the landing outside his front door. The situation is tense. Moore is verbally noncompliant, but not physically threatening. He has what appears to be a cordless phone in his right hand at his waist, the phone the cops will later claim they thought was a weapon, though it is in clear view throughout the encounter. He also seems to be clutching his inside-out pants pockets.

The drama continues with repetition of the main themes, the cops alternately escalating and de-escalating chaotically. They use their polite voices and shush him, but Moore remains belligerent. He says, “Fuck your call, bitch,” and they resort to sarcasm, “I appreciate that.” Moore repeats GTFOMS many times. His desire to end the encounter would be obvious to any trained, disciplined crisis-intervention team.

12:18:37 Moore Tells the Cops, “You’re Intoxicated.”

At 1 minute, 40 seconds, Moore accuses the cops of being high or intoxicated. They escalate, “Are you intoxicated?” At 2 minutes, Moore seems tired of the confrontation and briefly retreats into his house, but the cops order him to come back out. Moore returns, says, “Hurry up with this shit. They ask if he’s violating his restraining order, he says, “Fuck your order. Hell no. Do you see me around a Chou? You ain’t kicking shit, punk.”

Cha escalates wildly, saying, “No, not yet.”

They have just telegraphed to Moore their clear intent to hurt him. He replies, “No, not never,” seeming to only half-understand the threat of imminent violence. In a few minutes, they will in fact Mace, club, and then shoot him.

12:19:16 It Becomes Theater of the Absurd.

At 2 minutes, 20 seconds, the cops begin reading the order: “So it says you must not harass, imitate, molest, or attack …”

Moore: “Do you see me harassing, or imitating, or fucking with Chou?”
Officers: “I wasn’t here.”
Moore: “Do you see a Chou out here?”
Officers: “I just talked to him.”

[The restraining order may say “intimidating” rather than “imitating,” but that’s how the officers read it and how Moore replies.]

A Department of Public Works garbage truck arrives. We hear the air brake in the background.

Moore: “Go fucking put my garbage on the truck.”

Moore is acutely distracted by his garbage. He’s concerned the garbagemen won’t take it all. He seems to want a temporary truce. Negotiating, explaining, gesticulating, Moore says,“I’m gonna go put my garbage can in.”

Moore’s concern for his garbage is odd. He seems to think the cops will let him deal with this important business, and then they can all get back to the GTFOMS drama. A trained intervention team might recognize these signs. Moore yells at the garbage men, and the cops ask, “Why are you yelling?” Moore says, “OK, I’m going to call to remove you.” The cops ask sarcastically, “Who are you going to call?”

12:19:46 Moore Calls for Removal of the Fake Cops.

Moore appears quite delusional. He is going to call 911. Will he demand that the “real” authorities deal with what he later calls “fake cops”? Activists have filed a Sunshine Ordinance Public Records Act request for any 911 recording Moore made, both to remove Cha and Patino before they shot him, and later when he was barricaded in his house with two bullet wounds and called for an ambulance.

Moore retreats inside his house, slamming the door. The cops giggle, “Jeez. What, what’s up with this freak, man?” The cops say, “Let’s get out of here before he blasts us with a shotgun.” Cha and Patino’s callousness is evident, but so is their fear. With Moore inside, the cops retreat down the stairs. At 3 minutes and 10 seconds, the body camera captures the garbage truck working in the background. The cops read and discuss the court order.

12:20:14 Moore Reappears.

He speaks in a deliberate, depressed monotone.

He says, “You better get your faggot asses off my stairs.”

Officers, re-engaging: “What did you say?”
Moore, heating up slowly: “Get your gay ass off my stairs.”
Officers, escalating: “Why did you call me those slurs?”

The cops head back up the stairs shining their flashlights to blind Moore.

Moore, instantly triggered, reacts with rage: “Get the fuck from around here! I ain’t gonna tell you no more, bitch.”
Officers: “Sir, I got to tell you …”
Moore: “I got to tell you, get your faggot ass from around here, punk.”

[Moore asks for their badge numbers.]

Moore: “Show it, show it in the light.”

They comply. Moore begins to dial his phone again, repeating the homophobic slurs.

12:20:46 Moore Explodes.

At 3 minutes, 56 seconds, the cops call their dispatcher. There is more back and forth.

Moore: “Get on back where you’re going, fake cop.” [Moore clearly telegraphs his delusion.] With the release of 911 recordings of calls he told the cops he was making, we will know with certainty whether he thought he was dealing with fake cops, agents of Chou. But the officers continue as if Moore is perfectly normal, the restraining order now visible in their hand.]

Moore repeats that he didn’t fuck with Chou, that he put his garbage out, that they should GTFOMS. The cops continue, mechanically, mercilessly.

Moore: “It’s a goddamned court date on the 11th! GTFOMS!” [Apparently, Moore knows the details of the restraining order and the scheduled court appearance. His family later told me that he had planned to appear. But the midnight harassment seems a bridge too far, given his willingness to go before a judge in just a few days.]

12:21:32 Moore Is “Through Talking, Bitch.”

We are now 4 minutes, 50 seconds. Moore bangs his fist on his gate, “GTFOMS!” This is the first triggering of his rage. The encounter escalates rapidly. At 12:21:44, Moore comes out of his gate like a lion from a cage, the cops flinch, steeling themselves physically. Moore waves his right hand to dismiss them.

They warn him, “You’re gonna get sprayed.”

Moore: “Fuck your spray.”

Moore approaches. He is sprayed. The body camera moves in, lurches, obscured, but Moore may have kicked toward the cops. Cha may have pepper sprayed his partner, or Patino may have Maced himself. Moore grabs the restraining order and jumps backward balletically. We do not see Moore’s kick or whether it connected as the body camera is moving too rapidly. The physical and verbal action is rapid and chaotic.

Moore: “GTFOMS.”
Officers: “Fuck you.”
Moore: “Fuck you!”
Officers: “Hey!” Moore: “Fuck you.”
Officers: “Hey! Gimme the paper back.”

Moore slams his gate, the paper captured, then opens the gate again.

Moore: “Fuck your paper.”

Officer Cha: “Motherfucker. What’s up? Come on!”

At this point Cha has lost all professional discipline. He is ready to rumble with Moore. His disorderly policing has brought the call to a point of total chaos. The subject has grabbed the restraining order, called him “faggot, fake cop,” and accused him of being intoxicated. And Patino is injured.

It’s all too much for Cha.

Officer Cha: “Aww fuck! Aww shit!”

12:22:10 Second Tactical Retreat, Code 408

Moore again retreats behind his door and the cops regroup on the sidewalk. Cha calls headquarters and tries to explain. He is now calm, rational, professional.

Officer Cha: “Let me get the air real quick. We made contact, the subject made aggressive movements toward us, pepper spray was deployed against the subject, he continued to confront us, and uh, I need a 408 for my partner, he’s a 26-year-old, conscious, and breathing, pepper spray to the face.”

Officer Patino: “Aw, fuck!” [It must hurt like hell, and he probably got only a glancing, accidental shot. The 408 is code for an ambulance.]

The cops re-engage. Patino, partially recovered, now engages his authority fully. Before he was holding back, being conciliatory and letting Cha play the hard guy.

Moore, shouting plaintively from inside: “You gonna go?”

Officer Patino, shouting back in a deep, commanding voice: “Sir, you need to give those papers back, all right?” Moore is not visible: “Are you going to go?”

Officers: “No! You need to give those papers back now. That is an order!” Moore replies mournfully: “I can’t see!”

Patino orders Moore outside to give himself up, formally placing him under arrest.

Moore replies in a monotone: “Fuck your arrest. I can’t see. I need medical attention.”

Patino replies that he can’t see either, and suddenly the combatants are like those trench soldiers of World War I, comparing their wounds during a lull across no man’s land.

Moore slams the door shut. The cops are still on the sidewalk. They compare notes: “You all right? … Yeah I can see now. … Where’d you get sprayed? … In the eyes. …”

12:23:55 Moore Tosses the Papers.

At 7 minutes in, Moore reappears, and the cops again shout, “Come on out. Come on out!”

Moore says, “Here’s your papers,” throwing the restraining order out the gate, where the documents flutter to the steps about halfway down. The cops are not satisfied, “Come on out. I’m going to kick the gate open!” Moore, back inside his house again, replies, “I can’t see, officer.” Officers: “Then come on out so I can get some medical help for you.”

Another oscillation. Now the police are offering their victim an ambulance. Moore says calmly: “Let’s get this resolved, I can’t see!”

Officers, loudly: “Then come on out.”
Moore: “Let’s get this resolved! I can’t see!”

We are now 7 minutes, 10 seconds. Patino walks back up the stairs. As he grabs the papers, Moore goes ballistic, rushing out of the gate as Patino, panicking, drops the papers and beats a hasty retreat.

Moore is enraged: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” he screams, his fists balled at his sides, in a crouch of pure rage from which he explodes upward to pound his fists together violently. Patino has his baton out, in a batter-up stance.

Officer Cha shouts: “Come on. Come on!”

The movement is chaotic. Moore may be moving down the stair, but the body camera footage is not clear. We hear what may be Cha cocking his automatic pistol.

Officer Cha: “Let’s go, come out!” although Moore is already out.
Moore picks something up from the landing, and his phone comes apart, a piece of plastic skittering down the stairs.

Moore calms down again, in a monotone, “Fuck your paper.”

12:24:25 The Shooting in Slo-Mo.

An edited, slow-motion version of the body camera video released by the public defender, along with the entire, normal-speed version, begins with Moore taking one step down the stairs. Cha freaks out, yelling, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” as Patino repeats, less hysterically, “Get on the ground.”

Moore, calm but defiant, says, “I ain’t getting on shit, I ain’t getting on shit.”

We are now 7 minutes, 40 seconds. Cha calls HQ again, “Yeah, the subject is a BM [black male], he’s about 6-foot4, about 275.” Moore interjects, his voice calm, almost slurred, “You’re a liar. I’m 6 feet, 210.” Patino is over-selling Moore’s physicality, adding 4 inches and 75 pounds to Moore’s actual size. This is also a part of the pattern of officer-involved shootings of Black males, that cops often perceive their victims as far more dangerous physically than they are.

Moore begins crab-walking down the stairs towards the plastic part of the phone he just dropped, as Patino interjects, “He’s got something in his hand,” and Cha adds to his radio report, “He’s got something in his hand.”

The cops, with Cha’s weapon probably trained on Moore, appear to be setting up the shooting that will take place in seconds. Yet in Cha’s body camera, we have a clear view of Moore’s phone and both seem to see and hear the plastic part fall. Blinded by both pepper spray and the two powerful flashlight beams, Moore may not be aware that Cha’s pistol is trained on him.

Moore continues crab-walking down the stairs, his torso turned slightly toward the stairwell wall, his left hand holding the phone and the bottom of his shirt. As he bends to pick up the paper, Cha comes unglued, “Hey! Come out! Get over here! Get on the ground!” The body camera footage becomes shaky as both cops rush Moore, who now has the paper as he retreats back up the stairs. Patino is in front, to the left of Cha, but we do not yet have Patino’s body camera footage.

Cha continues a panicked yell: “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” But he does not have a clear shot. (Firing his weapon would mean hitting his partner in the back.) Patino raises his baton as he rushes Moore, and plants his feet on the landing with baton raised as Moore stands motionless. Strangely passive, Moore seems completely unaware of the imminent blows. Patino strikes him twice, in the thigh and leg.

Moore reacts explosively. The action is too fast to view in normal speed, but in frame-by-frame mode, we can see Moore’s raised fist as he winds up to punch Patino, who has just clubbed him. What appear to be sparks shoot from in front of Patino [a video anomaly, according to Adachi] as Moore’s right fist connects with Patino’s face.

Patino falls backward. We hear Cha shout, “Oh fuck!” as Patino tumbles down the stairs, disappearing momentarily from the frame. Now, for the first time, we see Cha’s pistol pointing at Moore. There is a final brief and visually chaotic interlude during which

Patino regains his footing and we see his baton raised again.

A still from one officer’s body camera video shows the moment before the shots were fired on Sean Moore. (SFPD via San Francisco Public Defender’s Office)

 

12:24:53 Shots Are Fired.

From 12:24:50 to 12:24:53, when shots are fired, forensic analysis of the body camera video will be needed to determine the outcomes for Moore, Patino, and Cha. Lacking the tools to enhance, do frame-by-frame analysis, and clean up the confused sound, I have no rock-solid conclusions to offer. But what follows is what I do see as a careful lay observer, and what I think I see in places where the video is murky.

I see Patino’s raised baton and Cha’s leveled automatic pistol as they rush one last time up the stairs to rain holy retribution on Moore. Cha now has a clean, clear shot, but I see Moore holding ground calmly on his landing, again weirdly passive, the restraining order paper in his hand until the cops are almost level with him, when he extends his right leg and foot to kick them or hold them at bay.

At no time does Moore rush at them. At no time does he come off the landing outside his front door. If the right leg extension is a kick and not just a holding-at-bay, it appears defensive, as if he’s trying to put one body part in front of the charging baton and raised pistol. I am reasonably confident Cha’s first shot is fired as Moore is moving backward after the defensive kick. It is crystal-clear that the second shot is fired as Moore continues backward with distance increasing between the combatants.

Cha’s gun flashes orange at the muzzle. Almost immediately, the muzzle flashes orange again. Moore disappears inside his house. Cha and Patino rush back down the stairs, both yelling, “Shots fired! Shots fired!”

These photos, taken after the incident, show the officers’ injuries. (SFPD via San Francisco Public Defender’s Office)

 

A MESSY AFTERMATH

Exactly 8 minutes and 55 seconds elapse between the first words between Patino, Cha, and Moore and the moment that two shots are fired in rapid succession. Eight minutes, 55 seconds. Rewinding the video scores of times to create a rough transcript, it feels more like a sweat-soaked week in a war zone. In this life-and-death drama culminating in “Shots fired!” we’re on a roller coaster of raw emotion; caution, suspicion, contempt, rage, fear, panic, pain.

There is an ebb and flow, escalations and de-escalations, confrontations and withdrawals. Moore is aggressive, then he retreats. He is passive, then he explodes. He spews invective, then is muted and exhausted. The cops are professional for a few precious moments on the sidewalk when they call HQ on the radio. They are tightly bonded: Cha asks his partner about the pepper-spraying with real concern.

Neither cop appears vicious, though Cha is on a short fuse, hyperaggressive and bull-dog-determined. They do bully, bait, and ridicule Moore behind a smoke screen of professional courtesy but change gears instantly to try to deal with him reasonably.

Throughout the encounter, both seem oblivious to Moore’s mental state, though his paranoia, his hair-trigger rage, his abusive slurs, and his pleas that he did nothing to Chou are all consistent and rational within his obviously impaired frame. In schizophrenic crisis language — as vile as it is — Moore seems to be pleading with the “fake police” who torment him so unreasonably.

Notwithstanding SFPD Commander Greg McEachern’s later synopsis of the incident, Moore does answer Cha’s questions: Moore says that he did NOT fuck with Chou and that he did NOT violate the restraining order. Only he says this in schizo-speak, which neither officer is willing to understand. Likewise, Moore IS cooperative with the officers, just not cooperative in the ways a mentally sound person can be or in ways that cops are trained to comprehend.

Moore is clearly delusional and incompetent. In the words of the DOJ to Ferguson PD, Moore is “the subject [who does] not understand their commands [and is not] able to comply with them.”

Patino and Cha’s lack of discipline and professionalism is obvious, yet they seem to be average cops, a few years on the force. Their chaotic handling of the encounter seems to have confused Moore. They refused to quit and didn’t call for a supervisor or for backup. On the sidewalk during the first lull, they seemed to be trying to convince HQ that the call was under control when it was not.

But the Moore incident was not just the failure of two young, poorly trained cops, a far more concerning reality became evident when senior officers took over after the shooting.

Oddly, it was Chou who called to alert the family.

When Moore’s parents, Cleo and Amos, arrived at the crime scene from the Peninsula, Moore was still inside his house, bleeding. Blackmon, Moore’s brother, arrived later from Elk Grove. SFPD officers told the family nothing of Moore being shot — and, despite the repeated pleas of his mother, refused to allow Moore’s father inside the family-owned house to care for his wounded son and defuse the crisis. I have been told that it is standard practice in crisis intervention to allow family members to defuse.

In her interactions with senior officers controlling the scene, Cleo Moore — a retired registered nurse who worked for 40 years at S.F. General Hospital — described being treated with contempt. The cops had told her that Moore had a “minor” injury and that “it could have been worse,” telegraphing to her that he could have been killed. During Moore’s week-plus confinement at S.F. General, SFPD refused to allow family members to visit him. Cleo Moore only found out about the shooting at noon the day after the shooting from a reporter covering the stand-off.

Cleo is resourceful, as is Ken, Moore’s older brother and a sworn peace officer who works with juveniles. Cleo shuttled back and forth to S.F. General the day of the incident, where, knowing that “criminal” gunshot victims were admitted under a John Doe alias, she manipulated staff to disclose the extent of her son’s injuries. Later, the chatty nurses were silenced.

Cleo learned that Sean was in the intensive care unit, intubated and sedated after abdominal surgery to repair his colon and liver. His condition was critical for several days. We can only guess his mental state. The public defender has not been allowed access to his medical or psych records as of this writing, although discovery motions were filed.

First on the scene from the activist community was Oakland’s Anti-Police Terror Project, a radical Black-led group pre-dating Black Lives Matter with a network of San Francisco allies. Their Chinese-American member, B., was the spokeswoman and media wrangler at the press conference held before the official community town hall 10 days after the shooting. After the community meeting, B showed me the blood-drenched video of Moore’s kitchen and bathroom, recorded when she helped Blackmon clean up his brother’s blood.

Jeff Adachi speaks during a press conference unveiling the SFPD body camera footage from the Jan. 6 shooting of Sean Moore. (Photo by Jessica Christian)

 

MORE MUST BE DONE

SFPD community meetings are standard operating procedure after an officer-involved shooting. Outside the community center, Moore’s public defender, Brian Pearlman, explained the basic facts of the case. Then, his brother and mother, Ken Blackmon and Cleo Moore, took the mics.

They were exhausted, emotional, and profoundly sorrowful as they described Sean.

Blackmon spoke of his regular visits to see Sean on his commute to the San Francisco Youth Authority facility in the Santa Cruz mountains, and of his job working with at-risk youth, his legal right as a sworn officer to carry a firearm, and his guiding principle, compassion. “That’s why I work with youth,” he told me later.

Cleo Moore was reluctant at first to speak. But when she began, a deep well of grief opened. She described her troubled son as “loud” but nonviolent, as someone struggling daily with mental illness who was not a vicious person. Later, she spoke directly to Interim Chief Toney Chaplin in the official meeting, saying, “He’s not an animal. He is a human being.”

The police-community meeting, scripted and formal, began with McEachern of the SFPD Investigations Division — our Internal Affairs — who read a short, prepared narrative of the events leading up to the shooting. At the time of the community meeting, SFPD was still refusing to release the body camera video and so McEachern’s story was the only one on the table.

SFPD had the usual blow-up charts on aluminum tripods. This time, there was no scare photo of the suspect’s weapon that justified the use of deadly force, no gigantic chef’s knife as in the February 2015 Amilcar Lopez-Perez case to explain the six shots to the back, no small steak knife enlarged several times to prove the December 2015 firing-squad-style execution of Mario Woods was a “good shooting.”

And this time, thankfully, the police chief did not make a case about “priors,” the dossier of encounters with law enforcement that so many men of color accrete like barnacles, as the criminal justice system carries them from prison to parole and back again.

Only the chief did telegraph Sean Moore’s priors, by saying, “I’m not going to talk about the suspect’s record.”

With these formalities out of the way, it was time for staged conflict with the community. A mic stand was provided, and the unruly public began to line up. Some were respectfully critical, but local rapper Equipto, one of the Frisco Five hunger strikers, exploded in uncivil tones. In the schmoozing after the shouting, connections were made, networks expanded. The real work would soon begin.

We learned the next day that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón had thrown the book at Moore who was being held on $2 million bail, beyond the family’s capacity to post bond and quadruple the amount in a run-of-the-mill felony murder case.

Gascón, reviled for not prosecuting cops and applauded for battling the Police Officers Association, is a mixed bag. Activists generally appreciate Gascón for the Blue Ribbon Panel he convened, but may soon recall him for not prosecuting cops in the many high-profile cases still on his desk. The Moore incident went to sleep for while, until the Public Defender’s discovery motions forced SFPD to release the body camera.

In response to the public defender’s release the body camera video, SFPD brass held their own press event just hours later. The Adachi presser was at noon on a rainy day in his shabby offices on Seventh Street; the SFPD event at 3 p.m. in the new chrome-concrete-and-glass SFPD headquarters in Mission Bay.

After an interesting skirmish over press credentials that had the 48hills blog reporter Sana Saleem and myself thrown out of the event after first gaining access, Chaplin brought out the cops’ version. A blow-up photo of both Cha and Patino was shown on their video screen. Both cops — photographed immediately after the shooting — look shellshocked. Patino had blood dripping from his nose, down his upper lip and chin; Cha had small red blotches across his cheeks.

True to form, the system that is SFPD was circling the wagons to exonerate Cha and Patino and savage Sean Moore before our new chief rode into town on a metaphorical white horse.

The tight control of the crime scene was Step 1. Freezing out the family was Step 2. Coaching Cha and Patino may have been Step 3. McEachern’s statement at the community meeting producing the system narrative, that Moore was charging the officers when he was shot, was Step 4. Chaplin’s press conference to defuse the catastrophic body camera video by substituting a photo of injury to cops was Step 5. The attempt to cull the pack of journalists was Step 6. This is predictable, a process, a well-worn groove.

The system knows it usually wins. The system knows that few will look closely at the body camera besides prosecutors, defense attorneys, and activists. And the system knows that the real goal is to tightly control the outside chief, limiting his range of action while holding the public in the tight grip of the mythos of the heroic cop who protects and serves.

But the system doesn’t always win.

And sometimes, systems topple.

New Police Chief William Scott is the designated cleanup man. The mayor, the Board of Supervisors, even the endlessly accommodating commission have all had enough. Enough of the drumbeat killings, enough of the violence targeting the homeless and mentally ill, enough of the racist text messages and the impunity.

At the new chief’s swearing-in, SFPD presented him with a huge bucket of shit wrapped with a big red bow: the Moore incident. And Equipto — along with a half-dozen of his crew of Frisco 500 loud-mouth disruptors — screamed from the balcony, attempted to unfurl a banner, and were forcefully (and brutally) evicted from above the City Hall rotunda. Equipto was attacked from behind by a sheriff’s deputy, headlocked, slammed to the marble floor with a knee in the back. He then had his jacket pulled over his head and was frog-marched to the elevators and up to the detention cell on the fourth floor. Charges were later dropped, another well-worn groove.

Ultimately, there is that old chestnut: the will of the governed. And in liberal San Francisco, there is a growing hunger for reform.

On the websites of local newspapers and TV stations — even for that matter in comments at the bottom of Sana Saleem’s 48hills articles — there are voices you might expect in Mississippi rather than California, in Boise rather than San Francisco. Lots of angry lock ’em up rants. Lots of white-man-splaining how Moore got what he deserved.

But a strong undercurrent for transformational reform of our police is growing. We are beginning, at last, to get a clear picture of just how brutal our police can be. How insensitive. How clueless about mental illness and other social ills.

And there are signs our police are changing, slowly. In his farewell address to the commission before Scott arrived, Chaplin turned from the microphone facing the commissioners to the activists in the cheap seats behind him. He publicly acknowledged our work. We remain wary — given the struggles of the last year and Chaplin’s formidable opposition — but some of us were genuinely moved.

As the public, at last, begins to move toward real reform, the department will have to move with them. Eventually, momentum may shift toward the outsider from Los Angeles and away from the reactionary POA, away from the brutal past, away from impunity for those who believe they own the department and the chief.

The tightly knit activist community will demand the DA lowers or drops charges against Moore to allow him, with his family, to heal his broken mind. And given the essentially tragic nature of the incident, I will urge the community to come out against any demand to indict Cha or Patino, unless there is evidence of tampering with the police report they filed. Retraining, yes. A strong reprimand, probably. Prosecution, no.

On the other hand, for senior officers controlling the crime scene who would not allow Moore’s family to talk him down — standard practice in crisis intervention — and for the officers who lied to Moore’s mother about his condition, strong disciplinary consequences are required. As for those who allowed Moore to bleed out for 90 minutes, and who made the call to leave a delusional schizophrenic wounded, deeply traumatized and without the comfort of family, even stronger sanctions are warranted.

Because we must turn from depraved indifference for the mentally ill toward compassion to earn the right to be called the cool, gray city of love.

David Carlos Salaverry is a founding member of San Franciscans for Police Accountability.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Moore’s neighborhood. It is Oceanview, not Sunnyside. 

 

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