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S.F. Police Shooting Wounded Man in Apparent Psychiatric Crisis; Body-Camera Footage Withheld

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Kenneth Blackmon and Cleo Moore speak with reporters Jan. 12 outside a town hall meeting on the Jan. 6 officer-involved shooting of Sean Moore. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

A man shot and critically injured after fighting with San Francisco police officers last week had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, according to members of his family who are questioning whether police followed new SFPD policies designed to de-escalate encounters with people in psychiatric crisis.

Two as-yet-unidentified officers responded to Sean Moore's residence in the city's Ocean View neighborhood just before 4 a.m. on Jan. 6 after a neighbor called 911 and reported Moore was banging on the wall and violating a restraining order, police officials said at a town hall meeting on the incident Thursday night.

SFPD Cmdr. Greg McEachern said both officers' body cameras were active throughout the encounter. The department is not releasing the footage at this time, citing open investigations into the incident.

Moore was initially agitated and shouted profanities at the officers from behind a locked gate, McEachern said. He retreated into his house, then re-emerged and continued to yell, approaching the officers on a stairway outside the front door. He snatched the restraining order from one officer, and his partner deployed pepper spray.

"At that time, Mr. Moore kicked one of the officers in the face," McEachern said, and Moore retreated back into his house. The officers left the stairway and called for an ambulance to treat for pepper spray and the officer's face injury.

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The officers tried to arrest Moore when he again came outside a short time later, and one officer hit him with a baton.

"Mr. Moore then stood up, turned, he punched one officer in the face, knocking him off the stairs to the sidewalk," McEachern said. "Mr. Moore then advanced at the second officer, who fired his weapon as he was falling off the steps."

Interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin said both officers suffered facial injuries in the incident that caused them to "bleed profusely" at the scene. Both were treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released.

Sean Moore
Sean Moore (Courtesy of Kenneth Blackmon)

Moore again went back into his home and called 911, reporting he'd been shot. He was bleeding inside for more than an hour before police entered the home, and he was arrested and taken to San Francisco General Hospital, McEachern said.

Sean Moore's mother, Cleo Moore, said she received an early-morning call from the same neighbor who called police, informing her that her son was about to be arrested.

She and her husband rushed from their home just across San Francisco's southern border in Daly City. She said she arrived to a scene crawling with police sometime around 4 a.m.

"I begged, please don't hurt my son, but little did I know, he had already been shot," she said. "And they would not allow us, I said, we can help. We can diffuse the situation if you just give his father the opportunity."

Cleo Moore said she had not been allowed to see her son, but learned about his condition through contacts at the hospital from her 40-year career as a nurse there. She said he had been shot in the stomach and groin and suffered damage to his liver and colon. He had undergone abdominal surgery and was reportedly conscious as of Thursday.

"He's not an animal, he's a person with a mental condition," she said, "and I don't think that he deserved to have been shot in his own home."

The shooting raised questions for Moore's family and their supporters about the department's adherence to a series of new policies aimed at reducing police shootings of people in psychiatric crisis, which account for about half of all fatal officer-involved shootings in San Francisco.

The city Police Commission passed a new use-of-force policy in December that emphasizes fostering "time and distance" when possible, especially when a suspect appears mentally disturbed and is not a danger to anyone else.

The commission also codified in December SFPD's long effort to build a specialized team of officers -- called a Crisis Intervention Team -- to respond to calls involving psychiatric crises. While the Police Department has sent over 400 officers to the weeklong course, it has struggled to ensure those officers are dispatched to the calls that need their specialized skill set.

Interim Police Chief Chaplin said neither of the two initial responding officers had received the specialized training beyond the course they take at the police academy, which is among the most comprehensive in the state.

He said updating police dispatch information, so that officers might know if they're responding to an address of someone known to have mental illness, is a work in progress.

"We're working on it with our Department of Emergency Management now to put that protocol in place where we can flag those addresses," Chaplin said. "There's some significant hurdles."

Within hours of the shooting, the police officers' union put out a statement blaming it on the new use-of-force policy's prohibition of the carotid, or "sleeper-hold," restraint and the city's repeated refusal to equip officers with Taser stun guns. The union is suing the city in an attempt to overturn parts of the new use-of-force policy.

Neighborhood resident Mary Harris advocated for Tasers at the town hall meeting, to which many in the room responded with shouts of "No Tasers!"

Sean Moore's brother, Kenneth Blackmon, said he didn't think the electronic stun guns were an appropriate solution. He said his brother's illness could agitate him and lead him to "mouth off," but that he did not have a tendency toward violence, an account echoed by Moore's neighbors.

"I know my brother, and I know the police would be agitating to him based on his history," he said. "But I just don't see why -- no public safety was at risk. No one was in jeopardy."

SFPD's body-camera policy, enacted last summer, says: "The San Francisco Police Department's goal is to release [body-worn camera] recordings to the greatest extent possible," but it makes exceptions for open investigations.

The protocols have not been tested, according to SFPD spokesman David Stevenson.

"You know it's interesting, given that we've been utilizing body-worn cameras for several months now. We're still going to see how that works out," he said of the video's potential release.

Police said Moore faces charges for aggravated assault on a police officer. If the charges are pursued, the body-camera video could be made public through the court proceedings, as happened in a recent case involving the BART Police Department.

Blackmon, who said he's worked as a counselor for the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department for about 20 years, said the incident had shaken his view of the Police Department.

"I'm conflicted as far as what I do and what they're supposed to be doing," Blackmon said. "It's conflicting for me because I thought the role of the police was to protect and serve, not shoot and kill, and you could have easily backed off."

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