The LAPD officer stood over Michael Moore and pressed a white towel against his face while hospital security guards strapped him onto a gurney. Moore, a 62-year-old blind man, began thrashing around.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” he said in a muffled voice. “Take this off my face!”
The guards kept working and the officer re-positioned his hands to push them firmly on Moore’s face. Seconds passed and Moore’s body quieted.
These are among the claims described in a civil rights lawsuit brought by Moore that alleges excessive force by LAPD officers in February 2019. The incident was captured on body camera footage from an officer who stood next to Moore.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California claims that at least eight LAPD officers tackled, beat and arrested Moore at his apartment, or stood by without intervening.
Moore, who has a history of mental illness, was then transported to the California Hospital Medical Center in downtown L.A. and secured onto a gurney. An LAPD officer held a towel over Moore’s mouth and nose until he passed out, the lawsuit alleged.
“He’s completely helpless,” said Brian Olney, an attorney representing Moore. “The people who are supposed to be protecting him, the police, are suffocating him into the unconsciousness. It’s sick and it’s heinous.”
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages under claims including unreasonable search, unlawful seizure, excessive force, failure to intervene, battery and negligence. It names as defendants the city of Los Angeles and eight LAPD officers identified by name.
Moore, the lawsuit states, was arrested because officers “misperceived the effects of his disabilities as criminal activity.” It alleges that LAPD officers falsely claimed that Moore had assaulted firefighters and officers that had come to his apartment following a call requesting medical aid. He was charged with four counts of assaulting a peace officer or firefighter with a deadly weapon and three counts of resisting an officer, and spent more than four months in jail awaiting a trial before a jury acquitted him in July 2019 of all charges.
LAPD spokesman Officer J. Chaves said the department had no knowledge of the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.
Moore lives in South L.A. and, according to his lawsuit, suffers from depression and manic-depressive disorder. After moving into his home there in late 2018, he founded a community organization to clean up the neighborhood and provide jobs for at-risk adults.
On Feb. 28, 2019, the lawsuit stated, Moore was assaulted by a friend’s niece whom he had been letting use his kitchen. After he told her she could no longer use it, the woman “flew into a rage,” the lawsuit stated. When Moore threatened to call the police, she twisted his wrist, snatched his phone, and struck him in the face, cutting him above his left eye.
That evening, firefighters arrived at Moore’s apartment in response to a call requesting medical aid. Moore told them he was on medication for manic depression and insisted that he could take himself to the hospital, asking them to leave his apartment, according to the lawsuit.
The firefighters gathered outside his building and told LAPD officers who had arrived that Moore was blind and had a history of mental illness, the lawsuit claimed. The police, it said, then walked up to Moore’s apartment without announcing their presence.
“The officers crept up the stairs, tackled Mr. Moore to the ground, violently smashed his head against the ground, wrenched his wrist and arrested him,” said Olney. “During this entire time, none of the officers who were present intervened in what was an unlawful arrest and excessive use of force.”
Olney said that officers had applied greater force because they misinterpreted behavior from Moore that stemmed from his mental illness as resistance.
“He’s blind, he’s manic depressive and he’s just been hit in the face repeatedly and then he gets tackled by more than half a dozen officers,” he said. “I think that likely did limit his ability to comply with their commands.”
Moore was transported to a hospital in downtown L.A. Once there, at least six hospital security guards strapped him into a gurney while LAPD officer Justin Choi pressed a towel over Moore’s face, eventually leading him to lose consciousness, the lawsuit stated. Choi did not respond to a request for comment.
Among other claims, attorneys asserted that the officers failed to reasonably accommodate Moore’s disabilities, “causing him to suffer greater injury in that process than other seized persons.”
Moore, Olney said, now suffers from insomnia and has frequent nightmares about the events that transpired.
“When he hears noises in his own apartment, he’s afraid. He’s afraid when he’s walking down the street, when he hears a siren,” he said. “He doesn’t know if someone’s going to jump him again.”