BERKELEY -- The stepmother of a severely mentally ill man who died after a struggle with police in his downtown apartment Feb. 12 wants to know if officers handled the situation appropriately given his well-known problems.
Police have released few details, citing an ongoing investigation.
Elysse Paige-Moore, who said she cared for 41 year-old Xavier Moore along with his father since Moore was a child, is devastated.
"I don't know if it was my son's time to die, or if he was not handled with the level of care he deserved," said Paige-Moore of Berkeley on Monday. "I still don't know what happened. There have been no police reports, but there's been a lot of speculation. There have been some things that went very wrong, and I would like more information."
Paige-Moore said at first she had no reason not to believe the police version of the story "and what went down," given Moore's physical and mental health history.
Her stepson, who weighed 347 pounds, was paranoid schizophrenic, a heavy smoker and used alcohol, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, she said. He also was transgender and passed as a woman, she said.
But after thinking about what police told her of the incident in his apartment in the Gaia Building on Allston Way, she wants more answers.
Berkeley police have said little publicly about Moore's death, except that they responded to a disturbance and contacted Moore who became agitated and started to scream and violently resist. Police said they struggled with him, and they were able to put him in restraints and put him on an ambulance gurney. But then they saw he was not breathing and began CPR. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Alameda County coroner is investigating but has not determined a cause of death pending toxicology tests.
Paige-Moore said police told her someone in the building called 911 about a disturbance shortly before midnight.
She said she learned from police and two house guests that when police arrived, they originally were going to take him to Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley for a psychiatric evaluation, but then they discovered an outstanding warrant for assault from San Francisco, and police told him they would have to arrest him. At that point he became combative, she said.
"The police told me he might have been on meth, and his guests told me that and that he was agitated and that doesn't surprise me," Paige-Moore said. "What doesn't add up is he suddenly stopped breathing and that coincided with them having to restrain him."
Paige-Moore said her son's house guests told her they did not believe police should have used the level of force they did.
In addition to more details from police on exactly what happened, she wants to know if police used the correct level of force to bring him under control and if they brought along a mental health professional skilled at de-escalation techniques as they did the many times in the past when they came to her home when Moore was living with her and her husband.
"Anytime Berkeley police came down here to our home, they always had the mental health mobile crisis team with them, " Paige-Moore said. "I'm pretty sure they didn't this time. He may have recognized them (and calmed down) if they did."
Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood on Monday declined to say whether police showed up to the disturbance with a mental health professional, citing the ongoing investigation.
Harry Stern, a lawyer who represented the Berkeley police officers on the scene that night who were interviewed the next day by police department investigators, said police did not use their batons or pepper spray and "showed a great deal of restraint."
He said they did use simple "control holds," physical force and a wraparound restraint device on his legs.
"Everyone's heart goes out to the family, and several of the officers specifically say that," Stern said. "Any time there's a loss of life it's traumatic to the people related to the person involved and also to the officers."
Still Paige-Moore said her son was well-known to police, and she hopes they did everything they could given his documented mental health issues.
"Usually he would go pretty quietly," Paige-Moore said. "They knew he was very mentally ill; they should have known that."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.