Sean Moore's mother Cleo leaves the courtroom after Officer Kenneth Cha's arraignment, along with civil rights attorneys Adante Pointer and John Burris. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

San Francisco Police Officer Kenneth Cha today pleaded not guilty Tuesday to homicide charges, nearly five years after he shot Sean Moore, a schizophrenic, on the steps of Moore’s own home, and two years after Moore’s death from those injuries.

Cha did not appear in court Tuesday morning, but his attorney, Scott Burrell, entered the plea on his behalf as Moore’s mother and brother looked on. Meanwhile, about 20 protesters dressed in black stood on the courthouse steps at 850 Bryant St., carrying signs and chanting in support of Moore’s family. 

“Trying to survive — will survive, but it’s been hard,” said Moore’s mother, Cleo Moore, after the arraignment. She has been fighting to get justice for her son since his death, and hopes that Cha will be held accountable. Often, though, “Black people don’t get the same justice,” she said. 

Earlier this month, District Attorney Chesa Boudin charged Cha with voluntary manslaughter and assault with a semi-automatic firearm, just the second time a police officer in San Francisco has been charged with homicide while on duty.  

Burrell confirmed that Cha is still employed by the San Francisco Police Department, but no longer has his department-issued firearm. 

The prosecution requested in court for any of Cha’s personal weapons to be confiscated, especially since Cha also shot and killed another civilian just a few months after he shot Moore; the latter shooting was ultimately found to be justified. But after a brief exchange, the judge denied the request, saying that “given the passage of time” since Moore’s shooting, Cha did not appear to be dangerous. 

Cha and another officer arrived at Moore’s home in the Oceanview neighborhood on Jan. 6, 2017, responding to a noise complaint from a neighbor. Moore, who had earlier mental-health episodes, was allegedly making noise through the walls. 

Moore and the officers ended up arguing for a few minutes while Moore stayed behind the gate of his home, asking the officers to leave and saying he did not violate the restraining order his neighbor had against him. 

Body-worn camera footage of officers confronting Sean Moore at his house.

“It was just a complaint from the next-door-neighbor that my son had knocked on the wall between the two houses,” Cleo Moore said. “And the neighbor, ironically, was the person that called me to notify me that Sean had barricaded himself in the house.” 

The incident was caught on the officers’ body cameras and, as it escalated, Cha pepper-sprayed Moore. The video footage shows officers shouting for Moore to come outside, saying he is under arrest and that they will get him a medic for the pepper spray. When Moore eventually complies, Cha’s partner hits Moore with a baton and Moore appears to strike back against the officer, but he has no weapon. The officer falls down the steps, and Cha then runs up the stairs and shoots Moore twice. 

In all, eight minutes lapsed between the time the officers arrived and the shooting.

Moore’s mother said she and her husband immediately rushed over to the house after getting the call from the neighbor in the middle of the night. They were unable to approach, and got no information from the officers present, except for being asked whether there were guns in the home. She didn’t even find out her son had been shot until a reporter told her the next day. 

“He was a person with a mental illness. Is this the way we treat the citizens of San Francisco when they have a mental illness?” Cleo asked. “We owned that home. He had a right to be in that home.” 

Cleo Moore was a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital for 40 years, and said her husband, Moore’s father, was a city bus driver. 

“We gave our life to the city and county of San Francisco. And to have a child taken away from you that way, that’s wrong,” Cleo said with tears filling her eyes. “And police are here to protect us, supposedly. Protection does not come when you shoot somebody, a mentally ill person with no gun.”

Protesters on the steps of the courthouse at 850 Bryant St. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Cleo added that, while police officers said they were unaware that her son struggled with mental illness, she didn’t believe this was the case, since she had called them on occasion for assistance when Moore was having an episode. 

Adante Pointer, a civil rights attorney representing Moore’s family, said it was “just crazy” that Cha would have his firearm taken away at work but be allowed to keep personal weapons. 

“It’s been a long, painful wait for the family just to make it to this day,” said Pointer. “But yet, we still see the justice system favors the officer.” 

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Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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