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Berkeley Community Groups Concerned about Death of Mentally Ill Man in Police Custody

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday March 01, 2013 - 02:35:00 PM

Members of several community groups raised concerns today about the way the Berkeley Police Department handled an incident with a mentally ill man who died in a struggle with officers two weeks ago.

George Lippmann of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley said Xavier Moore, 41, "had a history of mental health issues" but witnesses allege that the level of force used by officers when they confronted him at the Gaia Building in the 2100 block of Allston Way shortly before midnight Feb. 12 "seemed excessive."

Speaking at a news conference outside police headquarters, Lippmann said, "The community is in shock over his death and is gravely concerned about the lack of information" about it. 

Lippmann said, "No police reports have been released but there's a lot of speculation and it looks like something went very wrong." 

Berkeley police said the day after the incident that they went to Moore's home on a disturbance call and during the contact Moore "became increasingly agitated and uncooperative to the officer's verbal commands and began to scream and violently resist." 

Police said officers eventually gained control of Moore and placed him under restraints but while he was under the restraints he wasn't breathing. Police said officers performed CPR on Moore and he was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

Andrea Pritchett of Berkeley Copwatch said she's been told Moore had a drug problem and was a transgender person who lived as a woman. She said, "We fear that the Berkeley Police Department has lost its way in dealing with transgender people." 

Veena Dubal, a member of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, who emphasized that she was speaking as a community member and not for the commission, said there has been "a lack of transparency" in the way the city's Police Department has handled the situation and Moore's death "is still shrouded in mystery." 

Dubal said at the commission's meeting Wednesday a police representative declined to answer a series of basic questions such as whether mental health professionals were called in to respond to the confrontation with Moore and how the investigation into the matter is being conducted. 

Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats wasn't immediately available for comment today. 

Coats said in a statement Wednesday, "There are significant constrains in place regarding the immediate release of information in a case such as this and we can't comment on specific information or even address inaccuracies which may be expressed in public discussion regarding this incident." 

Coats said, "A thorough investigation takes time. We are obliged to wait for the evidence to be examined, the facts to be determined and the investigation to be completed."