The Problem with Fear-Based Policing | Steve Berman

Travis Moya lives in a suburban neighborhood in Alpharetta, Georgia. His mid-scale single family home sits in a subdivision behind a Kroger, in a well-traveled part of town. It’s an unremarkable home in a burgeoning Fulton County city north of Atlanta, which has become a hub for many corporate workers.

Travis was having a bad day, and it was about to get much worse. The officers who found themselves in his driveway weren’t thinking about how to make Travis’s day better; they were consumed with fear of what would happen if the worst occurred. Avoiding the worst case scenario is the essence of fear-based policing. Here’s Travis Moya’s story.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in late July, police responded to a 911 call made from Moya’s home by his 18-year-old stepson Jaden, who reported that his stepfather was behaving oddly, aggressively, and “growling” like an animal. Jaden was afraid that Travis might do something violent.

He told the 911 operator that his mother was outside trying to calm Travis down. The 10 minute, 48 second call has the 911 operator asking Jaden if there were any weapons in the home. Yes, a gun locked in a safe in the master bedroom. What kind of gun? I don’t know, a pistol. Any children? Yes, a 5-year-old and a 13-year-old, who were in their bedrooms.

Had Travis done anything violent? No, but he was acting aggressive, and had “punched the side of the house.”

Kami Moya, Travis’ 41-year-old wife, is five years older than her husband; he is a well-built 36-year old man, 6 foot 1, 217 pounds, according to the police report. Kami is Black, with a neat hairdo and painted fingernails. Travis is a dark-complected hispanic man sporting a well-groomed beard and a bald head. 

Jaden got Kami on the line with the 911 operator. She attempted to cancel the police response. “Don’t do that!” she snapped at Jaden. To the operator: “He may need to go to the hospital.” 

“I don’t know if he took something or not. He’s not himself, and it’s really…I don’t know…he needs to be checked out, or sedated, or I don’t know….” Kami requested an ambulance instead of the police.

The operator told Kami she’d add that to the call information. “Oh my God, I don’t want him to see the police or get alarmed or anything,” Kami pleaded.

Kami gave the phone back to Jaden and went outside. “Let your mom know we are going to send an ambulance out there to also check on him, make sure he’s okay.”

“How’s his behavior right now?” the operator asked, remaining on the line until the police arrived, keeping to procedure. “It’s about the same,” Jaden replied. The operator told Jaden she’d let the officers know. There’s no cancelling a 911 police call once officers are on the way. They always come. 

The first officer to arrive was K9 Officer Esposito, with his German Shepherd dog Ares tucked away safely in his own space, at the back of Esposito’s police SUV.

Body camera footage from Officer Esposito captured the entire interaction between the Alpharetta police and the Moya family. Kami was right to be concerned that her husband would be alarmed. Travis’s initial reaction to Esposito was to shout from his driveway “who called you?”

This wasn’t going to be a smooth call.

As Travis began walking toward Esposito, who stood just outside the home’s driveway, he was cautioned: “I do have a K9, sir. If you come up on me, he’s going to bite you. I’m just letting you know. It hurts.” Travis would later learn this the hard way.

“So just stay back there.” Travis complied.

Kami approached Esposito. “I’ve never seen him like this. I don’t know if it’s something mental…or what.” She gestured with her hands, pointing at her own head, as Travis stood by the garage doors, watching intently.

“He’s not in his right mind.” 

“I’m code four [Okay] right now. He’s standing in the driveway, balling up his fists,” Esposito called in to dispatch. Soon after, sirens interrupted the conversation signaling then arrival of backup. “Boss man, we’re here to help!” Esposito shouted. Now there were four cops, and a German Shepherd dog.

“You can’t reason with him.” Kami explained.

“So we’re here now, and we have to deal with it,” Esposito replied. He knew what was next. One way or another, Travis was coming with them.

“Allegedly we have crimes committed in the house,” he said. Then he asked if this was Travis’s house. Kami said it was. The video from Esposito’s body cam doesn’t show what Travis was doing while Kami was speaking, because he was hidden from view behind her.

Whatever it was, it spooked Esposito.

“Hey, I’m gonna get the dog out.” With that, he walked to his SUV, opened the dog compartment, and retrieved Ares.

Among the three backup officers who arrived at the Moya residence was Officer J.J. Frudden, who filed the incident report. With a full complement of officers at the Moya home, the police began the process of detaining Travis.

“Watch him, Ares. Watch him.”

They ordered Kami into the house. As Travis tried to follow his wife, Esposito summoned him. “Hey sir, I need you to to come over here and talk to me.” Ares started to bark continuously.

This is where things got violent. Three officers surrounded Travis. “Get on the ground,” one ordered. Ares continued barking. “Don’t fight with us or the dog will bite you.” Repeated.

The officers grabbed Travis’s hands and tried to handcuff him. Travis was saying something, but I couldn’t make it out over the dog. He shouted something to his wife, who was apparently videoing the event using her phone, standing in the doorway of their home.

Three officers wrestled Travis to the ground and tried again to handcuff him, while Officer Esposito stood by with Ares, who was still barking. Travis refused to allow himself to be handcuffed, and kept himself in the “pushup position.”

Then Esposito put the dog on Travis. But there was no room with 3 officers on the ground surrounding him.

“Hey look out.” One of the officers moved out of the way to make room for Ares. “Get’im!”

“Get’im Ares, bite him!”

It’s difficult to watch what a police dog will do to a man. I don’t recommend seeing it because it can’t be unseen.

Officer Frudden wrote an antiseptic version of the encounter in his report:

When I grabbed his arms, I could feel Mr. Moya tense his muscles in his arms which prevented me from putting his hands together in order to put handcuffs on. I continued to hold Mr. Moya`s left arm while other officers tried to put handcuffs on his right arm. We told Mr. Moya to stop resisting and put his hands behind his back. He continued to resist by keeping his arms tense and close by his body. He suddenly turned his body in an attempt to get away from officers. I decided that the best way to get Mr. Moya to comply physically with our commands and get into a position where officers could more easily get his hands behind his back, we took him to the ground. I used my right leg to sweep his legs and get him off balance and took him to the ground. Mr. Moya landed in a push up position and continued to not put his hands behind his back. Ofc. Esposito released K9 Ares and he latched on to Mr. Moya`s left upper arm. After several attempts to get Mr. Moya to comply, we were finally able to get handcuffs on Mr. Moya. K9 Ares detached from Mr. Moya`s arm. I observed large amounts of blood and fatty tissue coming out of the wound. A tourniquet was applied to help stop the bleeding. AMR and Alpharetta Fire was requested and responded to the scene. They treated Mr. Moya and he was transported to North Fulton Hospital for further medical assistance. I took pictures with my body worn camera of Mr. Moya, his injuries, and blood.

Moya was charged with Felony Obstruction of an officer. Georgia code section 6-10-24. Subparagraph (b) would apply for the felony.

(b) Whoever knowingly and willfully resists, obstructs, or opposes any law enforcement officer… in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties by offering or doing violence to the person of such officer or legally authorized person shall be guilty of a felony and shall, upon a first conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five years. (emphasis mine)

Note that section because it’s important. Travis Moya was not offering or doing any violence to police officers when he was arrested. The charge was added later when he was already at the hospital being treated for the dog bites.

I need to tell you why I’m reporting this story.

I live in Alpharetta, and the police here have gotten a bad rap. In 2018, a sweet granny, a distinguished-looking Black woman with white hair and pearls, stood in front of news cameras and talked about her encounter with the APD. That guy standing over her left shoulder? That’s her lawyer, “Mutepe” (Michael) Akemon. He’s not a very well-known attorney.

While driving for Lyft, Rose Campbell was pulled over for a traffic violation, and refused to sign the ticket. Officer James Legg resigned after the encounter, in which he was observed on a dash cam video shouting and cursing at the 65-year-old lady. Alpharetta police chief John Robison got on Youtube to explain and release the video.

It was ugly. Robison said the officer “did not perform in a manner that is reflective of who we are as an organization.” The Washington Post picked up the story nationally.

Sweet old grandma Mrs. Campbell sued the city of Alpharetta for $1.5 million.

Alpharetta has in the last few years become fertile ground for high-profile lawyers to shout “racism!” And given that other Atlanta-area police shootings, even justified ones like Atlanta PD officer Garrett Rolfe’s killing of Rayshard Brooks, have resulted in riots, the suburban cops have to be extra careful not to–bluntly speaking–kill anyone.

Enter the lawyers for Travis Moya.

Moya didn’t hire a nobody. He got Chris Stewart, whose website is adorned with media logos like a Soviet-era general’s uniform overflowing with medals. Stewart’s website reads like a who’s-who of civil rights news stories:

Chris is also recognized worldwide as one of the top civil rights lawyers of his generation. He has represented some of the most famous civil rights cases of this century including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks. He also represented Walter Scott, who was shot in the back on video by a police officer. The Walter Scott case settled for $6.5 million dollars – the highest in South Carolina history, and the officer received a twenty year prison sentence. Chris also represented Alton Sterling who was held down and killed on video by police in Baton Rouge.

Stewart was joined by another civil rights lawyer, Gerald Griggs. Two high-powered civil rights attorneys, a police department with a history in the news, an ugly dog bite body cam video, together equals “I smell money.” Fox 5 reportedthis like it was Montgomery, Alabama:

“It is disturbing. It is shocking and it has the same visceral effect that the videos that the people saw on TV in the ’60s during the civil rights marches when they had dogs set loose on them will have once again,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart.

Enter the media.

That same Fox 5 report began:

Kami Moya shot the video on her cell phone as Alpharetta police officers took her husband, Travis Moya, into custody Sunday. The video shows Moya speaking to officers with his hands cuffed behind his back. Officers take the 36-year-old to the ground and then a K-9 handler can be heard ordering the dog to “Get him.”

That’s a lie. Moya was never handcuffed before the dog was sicced on him. Ordering a police dog to bite a handcuffed man would be a major civil rights violation, no matter who the victim was. Moya’s lawyers were willing to let the facts get really loose to make their case in the media.

They also demanded that the race relations-friendly Fulton County DA’s office helmed by Fani Willis drop the single felony charge of obstruction, as CBS 46 reported.

Another CBS 46 report parroted the lawyers’ accusations that the police were lying. The Atlanta Journal headline went directly for the lie: “Restrained man bitten by police dog during Alpharetta arrest.” The video shown is the one taken by Kami Moya, not the body cam footage.

Once again, Chief Robison got on social media, this time the NextDoor app, to counter the charges.

Audio recordings of the 911 call placed by Mr. Moya’s stepson and the video from Officer Esposito’s bodycam demonstrating this sequence of events have been provided to local news media outlets. Those outlets, however, have largely chosen to not broadcast or use those recordings in their reporting. 

After conducting a thorough review of the interaction, including all the audio and video recordings and Officer statements, the Alpharetta Police determined that there was no violation of departmental policy, or Federal or state law regarding necessary use of force standards by peace officers. 

In his post, Robison challenged citizens to view the video and audio evidence for themselves. As a citizen of Alpharetta, albeit a humble blogger with a Substack audience, I took him up on the offer.

Let me say this first. If I were a juror in the civil case between Moya and the city, the city would be in trouble. It really does look bad. So I went to some experts to determine if the officers really were justified in their actions.

I have a friend who served at least 20 years with a big city police department in Virginia. He has worked patrol, as a detective and in a supervisory role. He is also a Marine and Air National Guard veteran of the Iraq War. I’ve known him for 40 years. I sent him everything I obtained from Alpharetta through the FOIA request.

“I’d rather be shot than have a police dog on me,” he said after viewing, listening and reading it all. The dog is trained to “re-apprehend” the bite every time the target pulls away. In the video, it almost looks like the footage is in a loop: bite, release, bite, release. Every time the dog bit again, the wound was deeper and more serious. Resisting against a police dog is an exercise in pain.

That’s really the whole point, my friend explained. It’s called “pain compliance,” and it’s used to force someone who doesn’t want to be apprehended to yield. If someone doesn’t yield to a police dog, they have to be very resistant to pain, or on some very powerful drugs.

Pain compliance is not, and should not be, used lightly.

My friend’s professional judgment: the cops were fully within their duty to detain and restrain, even arrest, Travis Moya. There was a gun in the home. There were children in the home. Mr. Moya was described as acting crazy. He could not be reasoned with. His wife said he wasn’t in his right mind. There was no way Moya could be allowed to re-enter his house.

But he also said the cops were very, very wrong to deploy the K9. I was told his department has a rule that a K9 must not even be allowed out of the vehicle unless there is a felony in progress. That’s his department’s policy. If this incident had occurred in his city, the dog would never have been brought out.

There were three officers attempting to restrain Travis Moya, who, as far as anyone could tell, was unarmed. He did not swing at any of the officers. He did not kick or punch or bite, or even verbally threaten. Moya simply resisted being handcuffed by brute strength.

My friend said that all of those officers probably had pepper spray on their belts. At least one of them had a Taser. Why weren’t any of those non-lethal methods used against Moya before the dog was sent in?

I dug some more.

I obtained a copy of the Alpharetta Police Department’s K9 unit policy, its Use of Force policy, and the policy on Discharge of Firearms. Section IX of the K9 policy states:

Canine handlers will exhaust all reasonable means to effect an apprehension without incurring a canine bite; however, it is recognized that there are times when this would be an impossible task. The following are examples of bite situations(this in not all-inclusive):

1. To prevent injury to a civilian or officer.

2. When the handler or canine is assaulted.

3. To stop a fleeing suspect that the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a felony.

4. To apprehend a suspect that has committed any crime involving violence to another person (misdemeanor or felony).

5. Canine officers will be permitted to search for an offender of any crime whereby the offender is armed or has armed himself with a weapon or firearm during the commission of a crime.

6. When the canine has located a hidden suspect, and circumstances prevent the handler from halting the canine prior to the bite. This could include off-lead searches, and unfavorable wind conditions.

7. In all apprehensions, the canine handler will recall his/her canine as soon as the offender has stopped resisting and no longer poses a threat.

None of the examples listed apply to Travis Moya, according to my friend. Yet Chief Robison cleared his officers of any violations of the policy. 

The Use of Force policy, section V, lists reasons justifying an officer’s use of non-deadly force.

A. Depending upon the resistance encountered, officers are legally justified in using or threatening the use of non-deadly force in the following circumstances:

1. When the officer reasonably believes that such force or the threatened use of force against another is necessary to defend themselves or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force (O.C.G.A. 16-3-21).

2. When reasonably necessary to preserve peace, prevent the commission of offenses and to prevent suicide or self-inflicted injury.

3. When making lawful arrests and searches, overcoming resistance to such arrests and searches or preventing escapes from custody or detention.

B. In the use of non-deadly force, officers shall use agency-approved empty hand techniques and/or intermediate weapons (EMB, OC spray, less lethal munitions or Taser) in connection with which they are trained, qualified, and certified as determined by the agency training procedures.

Did the officers exhaust all reasonable means of subduing Travis Moya before deploying the K9? They had justification to use pepper (OC) spray, or a Taser, but skipped right to the dog.


I learned from an anonymous source that this wasn’t the first 911 call made from the Moya home in the weeks prior to July 25. Police had responded before but Moya was not present at the time. The police dispatcher would have provided this information to the responding officers, but it is not made available to the public.

When Officer Esposito arrived, he already had expectations of how this call would go. It’s why he immediately requested backup.

The officers, once physically engaged with Moya, were more concerned with him potentially grabbing for their weapons, or potentially accidentally spraying another officer, than they were in running through every possible way to get Moya to stop resisting. The dog was there, and the dog would not result in Moya getting shot.

This is fear-based policing at work.

Any outcome short of Rayshard Brooks is a positive outcome in the book of fear-based policing. A dog bite, and a lawsuit are apparently a reasonable price to pay to avoid a riot, bad national press, and cries of racism.

Not to rely on just one source, I ran the whole scenario past another friend who spent many years as a Georgia prosecutor. “Three white cops and a Black perpetrator?” Well, he’s hispanic, but dark complected. And the K9 cop was also hispanic. Sorry, it’s bad–it looks bad and it is bad.

The felony obstruction charge wouldn’t survive a courtroom. There’s not a lot of case law my former prosecutor friend could summon to his memory regarding pain compliance and use of force involving a K9. Generally dogs are deployed to flush out buildings and chase down people in the act of a felony. Siccing one on a single guy who doesn’t want to be handcuffed by three officers is not something seen often–if at all–in Georgia courtrooms, I was told.

Chief Robison had a devil’s choice. He could set the standard that deploying the K9 should only be done after all other options had been tried, and in a melee that means guns could be drawn before the dog is there. Or he could stretch the K9 policy and presume that someone might get shot if the dog wasn’t there. He chose to stand by his officers, who acted out of fear of a worst-case scenario.

Officer Esposito saw the future when he took Ares out of the back of that SUV. I really believe that. He saw Travis Moya lying dead of a gunshot wound after some unfortunate grab of a Taser, or a drug-fueled rage at being pepper-sprayed that led to him trying to wrestle an officer’s gun from his hand. Officer Esposito saw Michael Brown in his mind, and decided that a dog bite was a better option for Travis Moya than a bullet.

But I believe Officer Esposito made that decision before he got Ares out of his vehicle. He said to Moya, “he’s going to bite you. I’m letting you know. It hurts.” At that point, the outcome was as clear as the Georgia sky. Travis Moya was going to comply, or he was going to get bitten by a police dog. No other option was safe enough. Every other option had the potential outcome where Moya was lying dead of a gunshot wound and Officer Esposito or any of the other officers had their lives destroyed.

And I think Chief Robison bought into the same vision.

Of course, nobody at the city would give me an on-the-record response, given that there’s a lawsuit in the works. And the lawyers for Travis Moya said everything they needed to say to the media in the days following the incident. They wouldn’t answer my multiple queries. I didn’t have the heart to stop by Moya’s house–and what good would that do anyway?

It’s objectively unfair, what happened to Travis Moya. But it’s also objectively better than him being killed by the police. Depending on one’s point of view, the dog bite might have been the best possible outcome, but it’s still a bad outcome. I believe there should have been a better way to deal with this situation. My expert friends agree.

Fear-based policing is what happens when cops stop thinking about the best way to do their jobs, and start thinking about all the ways they can lose their jobs. In the case of Travis Moya, and probably many others who find themselves having to deal with police when they’re already having a bad day, it leads to a very poor outcome.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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