BPD officer under investigation for decade-old yearbook photo had dressed up as Obama for church Halloween party, is not racist, father says

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Bakersfield police officer under investigation after it came to light he appeared in a photo in his high school yearbook with his face noticeably darkened had dressed up as former President Barack Obama for a church Halloween party more than a decade ago, his father said Thursday.

Christopher Moore was 15 years old at the time of the party, and dressed up as then-president Obama at the recommendation of his parents, said his father, Gary Moore.

The senior Moore said there was no derogatory intent, and that racist attitudes are not a part of his son or the family.

“This is a fine man, a fine community man, fine family man, who did nothing wrong, nothing derogatory at all,” Gary Moore said. “But because of the times we’re living in it’s jumped on.”

“You can imagine how upsetting this is to his family, to us,” said the 64-year-old Moore, himself a retired Bakersfield Police Department officer. “It’s just sad.”

Gary Moore said he ran the junior high group at Bridge Bible Church when the photo was taken. He said his son at the time had curly hair and similar mannerisms as Obama.

“This was not a blackface incident,” Gary Moore said. “This was a kid, at the encouragement of his parents, who dressed up as the president in a nice shirt and tie.”

17 News tracked down Gary Moore Thursday afternoon. He did not seek out the station for comment.

Bolstering the father’s contention that the photo wasn’t meant to be derogatory is that Christopher Moore used a line he attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. for his yearbook quote: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God.”

The photo appeared in a Liberty High School yearbook.

Kern High School District spokeswoman Erin Briscoe-Clark said the district was disappointed to learn that in a 2010 yearbook a senior tribute page was purchased for a student with a collage of submitted photos, one of which shows the student in blackface. 

“The district will continue directing school site administrators to be diligent in reviewing yearbook materials to ensure that the content is properly evaluated,” she said.

On Monday, the BPD announced one of its officers was on administrative leave and under investigation by Internal Affairs for appearing in blackface in a photo that appeared in a high school yearbook. BPD said the photo was taken several years before the officer joined the department.

The investigation began after the officer — whom BPD did not identify — informed the department that the photo had surfaced on social media.

BPD Chief Greg Terry has said the use of blackface in any context is inappropriate and offensive.

“We do not condone any behavior that degrades members of our community,” Terry said on Monday. “The Bakersfield Police Department is committed to serving our diverse city with dignity and respect, and we are taking immediate action to ensure that standard is met in our hiring process, our training, and our daily actions.”

Moore recently was cleared in a civil lawsuit filed over the high-profile arrest of Tatyana Hargrove, a black woman, in 2017. A federal jury found in favor of Moore and the BPD.

Hargrove, then 19, was stopped by police while riding her bicycle home on June 18, 2017. The officers were looking for a black man who brandished a machete outside a nearby Grocery Outlet store and mistook Hargrove for the possible suspect.

Hargrove asked the officers if they had a warrant, and they pulled her off the bike, another officer punching her in the face as he threw her to the ground, according to the suit. Moore released his K-9, which bit her leg as she screamed, according to the suit.

Hargrove had faced two counts of resisting arrest, one count of willfully interfering with a police K-9 and two counts of assault on a peace officer, but all charges were later dismissed and then-Police Chief Lyle Martin apologized to her family.

A federal jury last year found that Moore and other officers did not use excessive force or violate Hargrove’s civil rights during the arrest. It awarded her no damages.

Hargrove is currently facing a felony charge for allegedly spitting in a BPD officer’s food.

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