She Asked Mesa Police to Take Her Ex-Boyfriend to a Hospital. They Tased Him And Destroyed Her Home.

Mesa's SWAT team training
Mesa's SWAT team training City of Mesa
Last September, Adela Gibson called the Mesa police on her ex-boyfriend. He was in the throes of a serious mental health crisis and refusing to leave her mobile home. She told them that she wanted their help to get him treatment.

This had happened before. The year prior, Gibson had called Mesa PD for the same reason — her ex-boyfriend, Richard Moore, had camped out in her trailer and was suffering a mental break. Responding officers had brought him to a hospital for treatment.

This time, though, Mesa officers took a different approach to Gibson’s call. They dispatched their SWAT team, which bean-bagged, tased, and then sicced a police dog on Moore as he lay on the floor, unarmed.

The incident has spurred a civil rights lawsuit against the city, which was filed last month and is now pending in federal court. It’s not the first instance of such force by Mesa’s officers, who last year shot bean bag rounds at a man in front of his young children while he had his hands up.

A 40-page police incident report obtained by Phoenix New Times sheds light on what occurred when police responded to Gibson’s call last September. The first officer to respond, Jacob Shumway, noted that Gibson had asked for mental health support for Moore. But he was dismissive of her request.

“Adela requested that police take him to a hospital, due to some mental issues,” Shumway wrote. “I explained that we might be able to do that, but our primary concern right now was any criminal violations.”

Then, Shumway wrote, he told her “that the SWAT team would be called to forcibly remove him from the house.”

It was clear to officers who arrived at the trailer park that Moore, who suffers from schizophrenia, was having a mental break. He was “erratic,” one officer wrote, claiming that he was the new “living Christ” and making other delusional statements. Moore told officers about his diagnosis, another responding officer wrote, and explained that he was off his medication.

Per the lawsuit, Gibson told the officers that Moore had not hurt her, that he was “not dangerous" — although he could get loud and angry — and that he was unarmed. He didn’t have a history of violence. There were no weapons in the home, she said, and no officers wrote in the incident report that they ever saw Moore with a weapon.

Still, when Moore initially refused to leave the home, the situation began to escalate. Officers began giving him commands through a bullhorn, ordering him to leave. As he approached the doorway, one SWAT officer shot him in the chest with a bean bag round — a “less-lethal” form of ammunition, but still one that can cause serious injury or death.

That officer wrote that Moore’s right arm was “concealed behind his back,” and that he feared that he had a weapon, but the lawsuit claims that Moore had his hands up when he was shot.

Moore fell to the ground, injured, and crawled away into the trailer. Thus began a series of increasingly aggressive attempts to remove Moore that would ultimately send him to the hospital for his injuries and seriously damage Gibson’s home.

Gibson was waiting in a nearby Walmart parking lot when she heard explosions, the lawsuit says. It was the SWAT team shooting tear gas canisters and stun grenades into the house, through her windows and doors. When she returned home the next day, every glass window in her trailer had been shattered.

But the grenades and the tear gas did not succeed in getting Moore to exit. He was lying in the bedroom, covered in laundry, with his face to an air vent so that he could breathe. When SWAT officers shot through the sliding glass door to enter the home, they found him lying limp, with only his feet exposed.

“Richard,” the lawsuit says, “did not pose a realistic threat to them.”

Officers then shot Moore again with bean bag rounds. Then a K-9 officer sent his dog to attack him. Finally, another officer approached and tased him. He wrote in his report of the incident that he had done so because, among other things, Moore had “attempted to remove the K9 from his leg.”

It was only after all of this that officers took Moore into custody, bringing him to the hospital for treatment for multiple injuries. Charges against him were initially dropped — but attorneys for Moore say they were filed again after Moore and Gibson took legal action against the city. According to court records, Moore pleaded guilty last month to criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct.

The lawsuit alleges excessive force and negligence by officers in Moore’s arrest. It also argues that the city failed to repair the serious damage to Gibson’s trailer. In their search for Moore, officers ransacked the small home, emptying kitchen cabinets and bookshelves. Tear gas seeped into her carpeting and bedding. Mesa sent a contractor to board up her windows and doors but never replaced the glass.

“Adela was unable to breathe the air inside the home without coughing and gagging for several weeks,” the lawsuit says.

A spokesperson for the city of Mesa told New Times the city would not be commenting due to pending litigation; Scott Griffiths, an attorney for Gibson and Moore, told New Times that, at this point, his clients did not want to make any statement beyond the content of the complaint.

The city of Mesa has over the last year touted its new efforts to better respond to mental health calls, saying it is diverting some mental health calls to local nonprofits. But for Andre Miller, a pastor and prominent advocate for police reform in Mesa, the events leading to Moore’s arrest were all too familiar. They reveal, he said, the deficiencies in the city’s approach.

“They’re trying to be proactive,” Miller said, but added that the reforms had yet to prevent such incidents. “Their escalation and use of force is troubling.”

He noted the similarity of the incident to the viral video of the bean bag shooting of Lorenzo Jones, who was also shot by members of Mesa's SWAT team.

“When someone is in a mental health crisis,” Miller said, “it should not escalate to the point where it’s like you’re dealing with an armed robber.”
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. She previously reported for VTDigger and the Indypendent.
Contact: Katya Schwenk