A year and a half after a Vallejo police officer shot and killed 29-year-old Jeremiah Moore, the dead man's parents are struggling to understand how and why it happened. Police say Moore was shot after he threatened officers with a rifle — an account contradicted by a witness whom investigators have yet to interview.
The Vallejo Police Department and Solano County District Attorney's office still haven't disclosed basic details of their investigation, including Moore's autopsy and results of a toxicology report that could show whether he had drugs in his system when police shot him.
Eugene and Lisa Moore say, most of all, they want to understand why police found it necessary to shoot someone they say was kind, curious and trying to overcome the social isolation that went along with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder.
"They owe us the truth. They really do," Lisa Moore says. "I want to know the truth. Why did you shoot my son? Be honest with us. Tell us what happened. Because I don't buy the story that he put a gun on you. I do not buy it."
The events that led to Moore's killing began unfolding about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, when people on a quiet Vallejo street were awakened by loud banging and shouts. The noise was coming from 2504 Alameda Drive, the house next door to the home of Marvin Clouse. He grabbed a video camera and went outside to investigate.
Clouse says he saw his neighbors, Jason Jessie and Jeremiah Moore, smashing the windows of their own cars, parked in front of their house. The men were naked, and Jessie was calling out commands to Moore. Lisa Moore says her son's disorder gave him a tendency to follow commands.
“I hope this is right, I’m destroying everything. Destroy it, Jeremiah. I want you to destroy it," Jessie can be heard saying on Clouse's video. "Windshields are the soul. Windshield is god, break it. Break through.”
Clouse's video is too dark to see more than occasional flashes of light. In the audio, however, you can hear Jason Jessie giving orders to Jeremiah Moore, and Moore responding.
The disturbance continued well after midnight, and Clouse eventually taped Moore telling Jessie, “You start the fire.” At this point, Clouse says, he ran inside to call the Fire Department. Police officers, responding to multiple calls from the public, arrived as smoke began pouring from the upstairs bedroom window of the house.
A Vallejo Police Department press release said officers arrived at the scene at 1:33 a.m. and confronted a naked man, who turned out to be Jason Jessie, inside the residence. Then, the release said, a second naked man — Moore — "appeared from the back of the interior of the house with a rifle. The man with the rifle placed the barrel of the rifle directly against an officer’s stomach. Another officer saw this and fearing for his life and the life of his fellow officer, immediately discharged his firearm at the man with the rifle. The man with the rifle fell to the floor and was taken into custody."
Clouse by this time was back outside with his camera rolling. His recording captured the sound of gunshots, a 10-second pause, then an officer repeatedly ordering someone to "show me your hands." Then two more shots ring out.
The content of this audio is graphic. These events happened at some point later than the first audio excerpt, after Clouse turned off the video camera and then turned it back on. We have made no internal edits in this excerpt.
Moore was pronounced dead at Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo, just blocks from his home, at 2:04 a.m.
Jessie was arrested, and charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer. Those charges were later dropped. No arson charges were filed, despite fire investigators' conclusion that the blaze was intentionally set with gasoline.
Clouse wasn't the only neighbor watching the scene at 2504 Alameda Drive.
Jaime Alvarado lived across the street and says he was playing a computer game when he heard the commotion coming from the Moore-Jessie residence. Alvarado says he went to an upstairs window, where he had a clear view of Moore's and Jessie’s front yard and porch, and he saw police arrive.
Alvarado describes seeing a naked man standing in the doorway across the street when the man was shot by police positioned at the bottom of the porch.
He says the man was waving his arms strangely — a flailing that he couldn't seem to stop. He says he could clearly see the man's hands, and there was nothing in them.
“What I heard was the officers told him to stop moving, and he can’t stop moving,” Alvarado says. “He starts shaking. That’s when the officer gets, like, scared. He got the gun and shoots him.”
“I know, this guy who got shot, he doesn’t have a rifle in his hands,” Alvarado says. “The officer who was firing the shots, he was before the stairs, and the man who got shot, he was on top of the steps.” He estimated the officer was 8 to 10 feet away from the man he shot.
Alvarado says police then dragged Moore away from the house, “like a piece of garbage. They don’t even check if he was alive or anything.”
Alvarado says the next morning he tried to tell an officer what he had seen, but was told to go back inside his house. Since then, he has repeated his account to three separate private investigators working for Moore’s family, but says he has not been interviewed by district attorney's investigators or police detectives.
Both the Vallejo Police Department and the Solano County District Attorney's office say it's a matter of policy to canvass a neighborhood for witnesses.
Solano County District Attorney Donald du Bain said late last month he’d be happy to take Alvarado's statement. The DA's office confirmed to KQED that while Alvarado and one of the DA's investigators have since spoken on the phone, no statement had been taken as of Tuesday afternoon, April 9.
Jason Jessie moved to Arizona in December 2012. He says now he doesn’t remember Moore having a gun when he was shot, but he doesn’t remember much about the shooting. He says his mind has “shut out” the traumatic incident.
“I had to watch it,” he says. “I was covered in blood.”
Jessie says he doesn’t remember and can’t explain the men's behavior leading up to the shooting, but he insists he and Moore used only marijuana, and he thinks Moore’s toxicology report will prove that.
Lisa Moore’s face contorts with grief when she hears Alvarado’s description of her son’s waving hands.
“That was Jeremiah, when he was nervous,” says Moore, who lives in Santa Rosa with her husband. She thinks her son’s autism spectrum disorder played a direct role in the shooting. His family always knew Moore to strictly follow rules and orders, like those given by Jessie and also by police. She says his nervous twitching or flailing could easily have been mistaken for a quick hand movement just before he was shot.
Who Was Jeremiah Moore?
Family photos show a young man with short hair and an easy, almost goofy smile. Lisa Moore says as an infant, her son was a wonderfully well-behaved baby who would sit quietly in a playpen for hours. It was years before the parents realized their first child was a little too calm, and Lisa Moore says he was eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
As Jeremiah Moore grew, his different way of seeing the world isolated him from his peers. Lisa Moore said he began speaking late, and his difficulty communicating would frustrate him, but he was never violent. She choked up remembering a time her son asked her why he never got invited to parties.
But when Moore started attending community college, “all of a sudden he just blossomed,” says his father, Eugene Moore. He pursued his interest in working with his hands and was well on his way to becoming a journeyman plumber when he was shot. (His union made him a journeyman posthumously.)
People who knew Jeremiah Moore remember his fascination with electronics and antique light bulbs. He made friends with people with similar interests in an online lighting community, his father says.
Clouse remembers Moore’s eyes sparkling when he saw an old fluorescent light bulb in his neighbor’s shed. “He said, ‘Ooooh, can I have that?’” Clouse says. He says Moore was always kind and had been helping him work on his truck in the days before he was shot.
"Jeremiah was a good worker," Clouse says. "He’d get up at 2 in the morning to drive down to San Jose and work as a plumber, and he was always fixing his cars and they were fixing computers. I could come over with any questions, and he was a really kind, caring person. And I really miss him."
Moore met Jason Jessie online and moved into Jessie's rented house on Alameda Drive less than a year before the shooting. His parents say it was Moore's first serious romantic relationship, and he kept it fairly private. Sometimes the couple would fight, and Moore would call his mother to talk it out, she says.
Jessie says the only gun in their house was an antique .22-caliber rifle from the 1920s.
Clouse says the police could have helped Moore. "My feeling about the police is that I believe they murdered my neighbor Jeremiah," Clouse says, "and they came in like a SWAT team attacking someone who was not a threat, someone who actually needed to be helped."
Investigating Officer-Involved Shootings
All police departments in Solano County have signed on to the district attorney’s “Officer Involved Fatal Incident Protocol,” which dictates a joint investigation by local police detectives and DA investigators. Of the 21 completed investigations since 2008, most were finished within a year. Only two have taken longer than Moore’s case.
More than half of those shootings were by Vallejo police, and six occurred in 2012, a year after the city emerged from bankruptcy following the recession. Perhaps the most notorious incident occurred seven weeks before Moore's shooting. Witnesses say a police officer got up on the hood of a car and fired at Mario Romero and another man sitting inside the car, but the police and the DA investigation concluded the officer did not fire from the hood of the car. Romero died, and the DA and U.S. Attorney's office cleared the officer of any wrongdoing in the case.
Vallejo criminal defense attorney Dan Russo is familiar with the Moore shooting, and he says he has serious doubts about the police department’s story.
“Even if this shooting was a legitimate use of deadly force, that’s something that should have been figured out a year ago,” he says. “This is why people distrust public agencies, and more important than that, Vallejo is in a really stressful situation. The last thing you want to do is lose community support, and when an investigation into a shooting takes a year and a half, without any kind of pronouncement, without any kind of information to the parties, it’s corrupting to everything. It creates a bad environment in the city. It makes the cops’ job harder.”
Russo says he’s used to homicide cases that are filed within days of an incident, and that much of the information Moore’s parents are still seeking in order to understand what happened that night is normally made public.
Russo also says he doesn’t see the Moore shooting as an isolated incident.
“Somebody is going to have to take responsibility for the fact that because of cutbacks to the police department, police are less supported,” he says. That means there are fewer officers to cover each other, he says, and creates a situation where there's little accountability when it comes to shootings.
“This kind of all adds up to an environment where you’re not telling anybody what’s happening, and you have what I consider in my experience of being in this town for 37 years, a really unusual environment where you have a large number of police shootings.”
Vallejo Police Lt. Sid De Jesus says there are a lot of theories about the increase in officer-involved shootings in 2012. He says violent crime was up substantially, and the department was down to 84 sworn officers from 158 when the recession began in 2008. That puts Vallejo’s officer-to-population ratio at about half the national average.
“It creates a huge safety concern for officers,” he says. “But more importantly, it (the low police presence) creates a huge safety concern for citizens of this community.”
De Jesus says quality of life in Vallejo has suffered, and officers who elected to stay with the struggling department in the struggling city are concerned.
Solano District Attorney du Bain says his office’s review of the Moore shooting is close to completion. He says that sometimes the long investigations could strain public trust, but that the cases are taken very seriously.
“I’ve insisted these reviews be conducted by a chief deputy district attorney, not a line attorney, and that they be approved by me,” he says. “Our reviews are thorough, and I’ve tried to ensure that we handle these cases very carefully.”
De Jesus adds, "I can certainly tell you that I would assume that all of the DA’s findings have all been completed, and now they’re just in the stage of putting their case together, along with ours, and ensuring that every aspect of the incident has been addressed. It’s not uncommon for cases such as this, especially a case such as this that is completely complex. A lot of people may say, 'What makes it so complex?' There’s a lot of moving parts to it. There’s a lot of extenuating issues that were involved in this. And for those that were involved with the case and read what was publicized in the paper. So it’s not uncommon for these cases to take a little bit longer to come to a conclusion."
Eugene and Lisa Moore say they haven’t been able to find an attorney to take their case, so they’re representing themselves in a wrongful death lawsuit against Vallejo and its police department. They both think the strange circumstances leading up to the shooting are scaring attorneys from taking the case.
“We’re learning as we’re going, and it’s going to be frustrating because what if we screw up and I can’t do anything about my son’s death?” Eugene Moore says. “That’s my biggest fear. If they’re in the wrong and I screw up, I can’t do anything about it.”
The Vallejo city attorney recently filed a motion to dismiss the family’s claim on the grounds that their complaint is devoid of underlying facts about the shooting. The motion could be heard in early May.