People’s Park tree-sitter charged with attempted murder

Matthew Dodt, "Midnight Matt" on his tree platform/Photo: Lance Knobel

UC police have charged a man who has been sitting in a tree in People’s Park for the last three months with attempted murder.

Matthew Dodt, 54, was arrested around 3:15 am today after a six-hour standoff, according to Lt. Mark Decoulode of the UC Berkeley police department.

Dodt allegedly stabbed a man who had climbed up into the tree for a conversation, said Lt. Decoulode. Dodt stabbed the man’s hand, which had been resting on his neck. The man was treated at a local hospital and released.

Police were called to the park around 9 pm on reports of a stabbing, but Dodt refused to come down from the tree, said Lt. Decoulode. He finally agreed to descend six hours later after police brought in a cherry picker and some ladders. He was then arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and was  taken to the Alameda County jail.

UC police had issued a warrant for Dodt’s arrest for trespassing last week, said Lt. Decoulode. For a while Dodt hadn’t really been disturbing anyone but he recently pointed a laser at another police officer.

“His behavior seemed to be escalating somewhat,” said Lt. Decoulode. “Initially he was just trespassing. Then he pointed a laser. We were checking on him daily, mainly to monitor his health. Last night it escalated to the point where it became a public safety issue.”

Dodt, who also goes by the name Midnight Matt, climbed up into a tree in People’s Park in November. He was protesting changes to the park, such as the installation of a small museum,  proposed by George Beier, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in November.

While UC police said that Dodt apparently invited the victim into his tree, Dodt told the Daily Californian that four men approached him and threatened to burn down the tree to end the tree sit. When one of the men started to climb up the tree, Dodt got out his knife to protect himself, he told the paper.

Dodt has been a member of Copwatch, an organization that monitors police behavior, and Food Not Bombs, which distributes free food.

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  • Guest

    How come the men who admitted they were there, post curfew thus trespassing, to burn down the tree weren’t arrested? And why wasn’t the man who admitted he attacked Matt, and initiated the whole affair wasn’t arrested?

    If this was a situation was a two sided fight, then why was only one side arrested?

  • Name Withheld

    Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the City of Berkeley to start cracking down on homeless crazy people instead of giving them the free run of our cities and parks?

    I know the idea that the taxpaying residents of the City of Berkeley should have priority over the leeches that camp out in our public spaces and make them dirty and dangerous is totally bananas and doesn’t make any sense, but maybe we could just try it out for a little while?

  • Leni

    This looks totally bogus. I actually knew Matt from many events when I lived in Berkeley, and he is merely an eccentric but very kindhearted guy. The guy who climbed the tree probably threatened him in some way, and you are allowed to defend yourself if someone is attacking you or about to knock you down.
    The regular Berkeley police department looks down on the UC police for being a lower tier of cowboys. The UC police are probably just irritated by his presence, and took the opportunity to do this. I could spend several paragraphs talking about assaults and drunken behavior (bottles thrown off roofs at pedestrians) that I have seen take place as a student, where the UCPD don’t even want to come out and make a report.

  • yipsl

    Matt is a longtime friend of mine and a seasoned activist with no history of violent behavior toward others.. he is not a “homeless crazy person” nor a :violent leech. – he has a residence in a shared household in north Oakland. he is an intelligent and thoughtful individual. it is NOT AT ALL within character for Matt to invite someone into his tree and then attack that person. from what I have hard, someone (perhaps the sort of “violent and crazy” person” you imagine Matt to be) climbed the tree, probably drunk, and attacked Matt – not the first time. the police have done NOTHING to stop anyone who chose to enter the tree with intent intent from harming Matt, and this is not the first such occurrence.
    I thank the Daily Californian for publicizing Matt’s side of he story. I have known Matt for 12 years as a person of integrity. I hope these absurd and frightfully inappropriate charges are dismissed asap.

  • joe schmoe

    re: a man who had climbed up into the tree for a conversation

    …and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    Way to write an article from police talking points!! Pointing lasers?!? Pointing lasers is an “escalation”?? Why? And is there even any evidence that it ever happened other than the cops’ word?

    Only at the very end, in the second-to-last paragraph, do you even mention that maybe, just maybe there’s another side to the story.

    Weak.

  • yipsl

    thank you Leni. well said.

  • yipsl

    and thanks to Joe Schmoe too.

  • Wes

    “How come the men who admitted they were there, post curfew thus trespassing, to burn down the tree weren’t arrested? And why wasn’t the man who admitted he attacked Matt, and initiated the whole affair wasn’t arrested?”

    I’m wondering this too. Though, the answer is obvious – unjust police, as usual.

    ‘The UC police are probably just irritated by his presence, and took the opportunity to do this”

    Yepp.

    “Way to write an article from police talking points!”

    Seriously.

  • Voxhumana

    Yipsi, you said: “it is NOT AT ALL within character for Matt to invite someone into his tree and then attack that person.who gave Matt the tree?” What I want to know is: who gave Matt the tree?

  • den denny

    Berkeley city government is WAAAY too tolerant of these nutjobs that ruin our public spaces. Please lock this guys up and get him the mental health help he clearly needs.

  • yipsl

    den denny – you TOO must be a licensed psychologist since you can diagnose someone’s mental health status from a police report! as to who “gave” Matt the tree… I was a but sloppy myself in the use of the possessive pronoun “his” but “property opf the Regents of the University of California” can indeed be construed to mean it is ALL OF OUR property as taxpayers within the State of California.

    my point still stands – Matt is not a delusional paranoid at all, and would not invite someone to join him, then suddenly attack that eprson. I;ve known him for many eyars. the other party climbed the tree to attack him. it doesn;t matter whether it is a tree his mother gave him on his birthday, a tree beloinging to the University or the city, or the neighbor’s lemon tree. even if a person is in it illegally, he has a right to defend himself when attacked.

    and i know Matt, who is not a nut case at all, well enough to say without equivocation that he would never turn on someone for no reason. he has no history of this behavior. and yes, I have been a mental health worker with people who DO have those types of sudden violent episodes. matt does not meet the profile in the least.

    as one of my teenaged clients from ym adolescenct mental ehalth worker days would say “talk what you know.”

  • A. Nonnymoose

    To the people who are defending the tree-sitter:

    Do you want to know how we know the tree-sitter is a crazy nut case? Because he’s been sitting in a tree for three months, that’s how. Maybe you knew him before he snapped but something changed. Mentally stable people do not spend three months sitting in trees to protest building a small museum in a park. If the people who are saying they knew him were really friends they would have tried to talk him down out of the tree and gotten him to seek professional help.

  • Guest

    The whole idea of the laser is such bs. A laser pointer perhaps, but not a laser, like some sort of death ray. The cops keep saying that lasers were fired at them like they were in a Star Wars film. A laser pointer perhaps, but not phased matter projectile device, nor a tightly focused high energy discharge… a laser pointer is really the only thing it could have been.

    Or was Matt a genius who cobbled together a portable energy weapon in his spare time in the tree a-la Gilligan’s Island?

    Just because its the year 2011 don’t mean it’s suddenly Sci-Fi time. If it IS Sci-Fi time, and I’ve oblivious to it, then why didn’t the cops fire their laser back, use their proton shields, or at least a send in the flying robots? Couldn’t the cops have used their transporters to beam him out of the tree?

    This talk about people’s mental health is HATE SPEECH and I am surprised the moderator of this blog lets people degrade the concepts of mental illness.

  • yipsl

    A Nonymoose is being absurd and jumping to judgment again. if I were more the indignant type, I might ask how DARE you presume that “Something snapped” when you have no knowledge of Matt or of mental health issues as far as I can tell.(I got excellent grades in upper division psychology classes,and was a mental health worker with porfoundly disturbed people for years. and you?)
    as for for :needing “professional help”, well, the CIty of Berkeley sent some roving caseworkers around to check on Matt. he’s sane, if, someone here said, a bit eccentric and tends very hard on himself while very hard working and willing to sacrifice his own comfort for others. when under stress, Matt is far more likely to become self-deprecatory rather than to attack others. he;s never committed an act of violence against any other person as far as I know. Matt sticks up for the underdog, often very tolerant of people who I find almost unbearable.he works hard and efficiently at whatever work is before him, and he keeps himself and his surroundings clean. he has been strong and important as a helpful, resourceful, and friendly “uncle” to many friends’ children. .

    simply engaging in an unrealistic action with unrealistic goals is not characteristic of mental illness. his mind didn’t “snap.” as far as I can tell from the scanty evidence I’ve gathered (I was not there but neither were you, as far as I can tell)

    We’ve been close friends for years, and out of concern for him I checked in on him nearly daily, to see if he needed food, clothing, his mail picked up from his residence, or any other practical need. I may not have agreed with the tree sit action itself, but participation in actions of questionable effectiveness is not evidence of a mental health disorder. Matt was consistently oriented, non-paranoid, and quite lucid each day I spoke with him.

    this is not the first time someone has climbed the tree with the intent of harming matt, and the police had already announced that they would do NOTHING to stop anyone else from entering the tree while Matt was there. “he has as much right to be here as you do, Matt,” said one UC cop.

    treespass does not confer the right of any third party to physically attack someone.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    For those who believe that pointing a laser at someone is no big deal:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_safety

  • Bruce Love

    Guest, All of you guys are who are standing up for this man and against the assumption that he’s just some wacko sound pretty credible to me. I hope everything gets sorted out and whatever is just happens. BUT…

    Laser concerns aren’t BS. Three serious problems that make them not toys – not even cheapo laser pointers: 1) Some retail lasers are strong enough to damage a person’s eyes. You can’t tell in the heat of the moment how strong the laser is. You have to take that threat seriously. 2) Just about all retail lasers including laser pointers are strong enough to effectively blind (temporarily) an officer. Making it so that an on duty police officer can’t see his or her environment at night in a tense park in a tense situation is not so cool. 3) It’s not just a movie cliche: laser gun sights are a real thing. If cops can’t be certain that the laser bouncing around on their chest is just a cheap laser pointer, they have to take the threat seriously. You wouldn’t point a fake gun carved out of wood at a cop, would you? Its not any better if all the cop knows is that there’s a red dot jiggling around his or her body.

    I’m not saying the guy pointed a laser or didn’t. So many people are speaking up for him that the whole self defense story sounds plausible, at least. I don’t know who is or is not crazy in all of this and don’t expect to figure it out from news reports real soon. But please:

    Have some respect for the proper handling and non-abuse of lasers!

  • Anon

    Umm, yes, he is a crazy loon. He’s been living in a tree for three months.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    He’s never committed an act of violence? What do you call attempts to blind police officers with a laser pointer and trying to stab someone in the throat? It doesn’t take advanced degrees to spot that kind of crazy.

    Lives in a tree + antagonizing the police + trying to stab someone = crazy.

    Being blind to your friend’s obvious mental health issues and doing nothing to get him proper help = jerk.

    I hope yipsl knows that he/she is partly to blame for Matt’s situation since he/she did nothing to try and get him the help that he needs.

    Calling people with mental health issues “eccentric” is just a way for selfish people to ignore someone who really needs help.

  • yipsl

    Nonymoose: you are again assuming that the police version of the laser-pointing thing is accurate. there have been enough olice half truths and outright lies that we need to take everything that comes from the police blotter with a grain of salt (or, as I say, maybe a pillar of salt the size of Mrs Lot…)
    I;m familar with laser pointers, and the one on Matt;s flashlight in particular. he uses it when visiting my house to give the cats something to chase (as do the humane officers at the Berkeley Animal Shelter with THEIR shelter cats, BTW. cats like chasing light in the dark, especially glowing red lights that resemble the eyes of nocturnal rodents.)

    matt may well have been playing with a non-human critter (cat, mouse, squirrel, raccoon, possum) if he was moving a red laser around the park. he is a gentle, playful person who likes animals (he often helps me with my pets and enjoys their company, and they his.

    we don;t know that he was pointing it in anyone;s eyes.

    we do know that the cops were looking for a way to get him out of the tree.

    let me remind EVERYONE of the central tent of Anglo American law; presumption of innocence.
    everyone thinks they can be judge and jury via blog these days.

    you don;t know nearly as much about the situation as I do.

    he needs help – legal help, not psychiatric. and a paying job, which he is very capable of maintaining. Matt is smart, loving, and warm hearted.

  • yipsl

    wow, Nonymoose knows SO much more about the situation than I do, and this includes how knows that I am partly to blame for Matt’s arrest. apparently he/she too is a practicing psychologist, a legal investigator who knows all the facts of a crime scene he’she never visited, and knows how to assign at elast a fraction of blame for the crime he perceives. it;s somehow my fault for not :getting him the help he needs.”

    um, if you want to talk about violence by the mentally ill, there has been a frightening increase in violent, even deadly, assault by the TRULY disturbed inmates of state mental hospitals. these people are heavily medicated and ostensibly receiving mental health care.

    I;ve worked for mental health facilities and programs, and dealt front-line with violent people in many such settings.

    again…and you? just what ARE your credentials?
    you don’t know that he “tried to blind police.” that’s a conjecture. you do’;t know that he :tied to stab someone in the throat.” I;ve rad enough police reports over the years to know that jsut because the police say something happened doesn;t make it a fact – theya re sometimes mistaken and sometimes outright lying.

  • yipsl

    PS calling people “jerks” for holding opinions of their friends different than the one you draw from reading one highly biased blog report is not a very astute analysis of the situation, or a strong indicator of ones own mental health OR intelligence. I’m gonna say it one more time: just because you read it on sfgate.com in a non-fact-checked BLOG doesn’t make it accurate.

    I must get back to work.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    Sure, yipsl, I’m going to trust the story of someone who lives in a tree for three months over someone who is job it is to protect the people. Yes, there are bad police officers just like there are bad lawyers, bad doctors, and, based on yipsl’s posts, bad mental health workers. Assuming that any police account of a crime is a lie because of a tiny minority of bad officers is dumb.

    All your arguments are just trying to cover your guilt over having done nothing to help this person. You pretended to help by walking by and saying hello and then you walked away and did nothing.

    He had been living in a tree for three months. I don’t care what degree you have, that is NOT the behavior of a mentally stable person.

    And you say he doesn’t have a job? How did he pay for food? How did he pay for the phone that he used to call Zachary Runningwolf? Is he on unemployment insurance? If so, then he has also been perpetrating fraud by collecting insurance while he is not out looking for a job.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    Yipsl, that is not your opinion of him and you know it. You’re just trying to wash away your own guilt for doing nothing to help this person you call a friend. With friends like you, no wonder he ended up stabbing someone.

  • yipsl

    I really must quit arguing with fools here. now you are diagnosing my “guilt” in the psychological sense and telling me that “with friends like” me of course he ends up stabbing someone. and you know my “real” opinion of him somehow – you can read minds at a distance, apparently – mine an d his.

    “all I did was walk by and say hello” nd I’m somehow delerict in my duty to a friend for that. what b.s.

    there’s a concept in gerontology and in mental health…actually throughout health care… called the dignity of risk. soemtimes all you can do is say, “well, it;s not something I would advise” and still trreat the person you care about with respext, and try to make sure their basic needs are met.
    well, I AM doing something concrete for Matt. I’m connecting him with competent defense attorneys. wish I didn’t have to; wish he’d not agreed to this action in the first place, wish some drunk had’;t climbed the tree with intent to harm him. for all I know the cops set up the intruders – and they WERE intruders, with violent intent – in the first place.

    I will confess to having no great love for People’s Park myself. I went by daily because I care about Matt.

    there;s plenty about what happened that I don;t know. I know that over the years I have read enough erroneous police reports to know that they are a poor source of facts for purported journalism. and I know that i know far more about the situation with Matt and the Peoples Park tree sit than you do..

    and, yes, I appear to be better educated, especially in the field of psychology, that you who think you can tell me what I feel, think and know about one of my close friends..

    you don;t know me; you don’t know Matt. you are not a lawyer, a psychologist, a doctor, a police officer, or a journalist as far as I can tell.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    I’m none of those things yipsl but I am one thing that you are not. I am a person who does not walk away when a friend decides to live in a tree. You can try and justify it all you want but you walked away. He needed help and you walked away. Sure, you stopped by to say hello so you can make yourself feel better about doing nothing but, in the end, you walked away.

    How can you pretend to be so educated and deny that someone who decides to live in a tree needs help? He’s unemployed and living in a tree and you walked away. Yet, somehow you make it that I am the bad person in all of this. I did not stab anyone and I did not walk away from a friend who needed help. I did not accuse the police of lying with no evidence to support it. I just read an article and came to a conclusion that I think the vast majority of people would.

    Whatever lets you sleep at night.

  • den denny

    Living in tree = nutcase. The defender of the guy who lives in a tree = nutcase. As if enabling the mentally-ill street people really makes our city a much better place to live in.

  • yipsl

    pretty funny, Nonnynoose or whataever you would like me to call you. I “walked away? and I should jnot be able to sleep at night? ” I have no guilt about how I’ve treated Matt at all. pretty funny, as I say, that you want to call him every name in the book and add a fewe in the book, then tell me *I* should feel guilty. sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

    Matt’s not a street person, nor is he mentally ill by the criteria in use by professionals today today; he;ls been poor his entire life. he;s worked hard, and effectively, at every paid and volunteer job he’;s held, and cn provide character witnesses to attest to that. he is clever and kind-hearted and funny.I could tell you about his REAL weaknesses rather than the ones you imagine you know – but why? he’s a human being who made a conscious decision to engage in a form of civil disobedience. he WAS being harassed by some truly deranged people in the Park.

    he needs a lawyer, and he needs a good defense. but it;s on the prosecutors to porve that he did what they say he did…not on us, and not on him to prove his innoence’ the prosecution has to prove his guilt. that;s the beauty, if it works, of Anglo American law. the burden of proof is on the accuser.
    .my own opinion – the Park wasn’t worth it.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    The fact that you don’t feel guilty about walking away while your unemployed friend lives in a tree is nothing to brag about, yipsl. Sleeping in a public park that is frequented by many homeless people and is known to be an unsafe place at night is a choice that clearly put your friend in a lot of danger. You let your friend do this without trying to intervene and then he ended up being confronted by someone and is now in jail for stabbing them. I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you would feel guilty but you seem to wear it as a badge of honor that you are so selfish as to not accept any responsibility for your inaction.

    To me, this is the same as watching your drunk friend drive home from a party and not feel any remorse when that friend wraps his car around a telephone pole and lands in the hospital.

    Friends are supposed to look out for each other and protect each other when they are in danger. A real friend would have tried to talk him down, gotten more friends to try and talk him down, gotten his family involved and not given up until he came down and was safe. You left him up there.

    But you stopped by to say hello and gave him the number for a lawyer AFTER the inevitable happened so you’re now blameless. Your arrogance makes me sick.

  • A. Nonnymoose

    The fact that you don’t feel guilty about walking away while your unemployed friend lives in a tree is nothing to brag about, yipsl. Sleeping in a public park that is frequented by many homeless people and is known to be an unsafe place at night is a choice that clearly put your friend in a lot of danger. You let your friend do this without trying to intervene and then he ended up being confronted by someone and is now in jail for stabbing them. I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you would feel guilty but you seem to wear it as a badge of honor that you are so selfish as to not accept any responsibility for your inaction.

    To me, this is the same as watching your drunk friend drive home from a party and not feel any remorse when that friend wraps his car around a telephone pole and lands in the hospital.

    Friends are supposed to look out for each other and protect each other when they are in danger. A real friend would have tried to talk him down, gotten more friends to try and talk him down, gotten his family involved and not given up until he came down and was safe. You left him up there.

    But you stopped by to say hello and gave him the number for a lawyer AFTER the inevitable happened so you’re now blameless. Your arrogance makes me sick.

  • Name Withheld

    I would just like to state for the record that when I referred to “homeless crazy people” and “dangerous leeches” I was referring in general to the people who live/camp/hang out in People’s Park, and not Mr. Dodt in particular.

    I do not know him nor do I know the particulars of his case. What I do know is that the encampments in People’s Park and the associated filth (trash, human feces, etc) make it a place that I have no desire to ever go, and are a constant source of negative comments from people visiting the city.

    But the fact that Mr. Dodt continues to live in a tree to try to protest proposed changes to the park that were made by a City Council hopeful who lost the election – changes that are no longer being seriously considered – could easily be seen as an indication that Mr. Dodt has a few screws loose.

  • yipsl

    I’m really swearing off arguing with you people. I;m confident enough in the accuracy of my moral compass so that your silly pronouncements about how I should be unable to sleep at night because I didn’t surround a tree with people to talk Matt down are absurd. my supposed arrogance makes you sick? fine. enjoy your poor health. coercive mental health treatment doesn’t work. the police who were stirring up truly deranged homeless people in Peoples Park by stepping up their harassment and saying “it;s because of that guy in the tree” may have some reason to examine their consciences. I’ve looked at mine. I did what I could for someone I care about, and I will continue to do so. it sure is easy for you to judge not just Matt, but me. so enjoy it. maybe it’s YOUR conscience making you a it sick..that;s for you to decide.

    “getting his family involved in an intervention” – Matt HAS no family to speak of, except the friends he has made in the 20 years or so he has lived in California; this parents are dead. he has been very poor his whole life. he has one brother living who he has not seen in decades, and with whom he made Internet contact only a few years ago. I may try to contact him if this doesn’t blow over soon as absurd trumped charges..

    now go harass someone else who has a friend who ran afoul of the law. I;m really too busy for you.

  • DC

    Sorry, if you stab someone you should in fact get arrested. If it was self-defence he will have a chance to defend that point. But in my opinion it is completely nuts to give a free pass to someone who stabs others because “he’s a good guy.” Good guy or no, he stabbed someone! I’m a good person too, do I get a freebie at stabbing someone who gets in my face?

  • A. Nonnymoose

    I’m sorry, yipsl, but what did you try to do to help again? By your own account, all you did was stop by to check on him. You tried to tell us that he did not have any psychological issues besides being eccentric but then you said “coercive mental health treatment doesn’t work”. Which is it? Is he sane or did he need mental health treatment that you were unable to give him?

    Why can’t you just admit that Matt needed help and you feel bad that you didn’t do anything to help until it was too late? Have you ever admitted you were wrong in your entire life? Your friend is in jail and all you did to prevent this was stop by to chat with him.

    You can be done arguing with me all you want but I’m not done being horrified by what a terrible person you are. Of course, you said you were done arguing with me before but you just had to come back and brag about how you left your friend to live in a tree and how that doesn’t bother you in the least.

  • yipsl

    yeah right…I’m a terrible person and you can diagnose that, too. you are totally freakin’ brilliant that way, I’v;e noticed. so enjoy being horrified by my thoroughly debased character. I need to help Matt find decent counsel and take care of my family. I have a few rrsoisbilities in life – hob, kids in school, household, aging parents, friend in Oregon who just died of cancer, y’know, the usual kind of humdrum stuff of being alive. I suggest you attend to yours and quit worrying about how derelict I am. as you say, it’s not healthy. perhaps *you* should seek a qualified mental health counselor.though I wonder how much good it will do.

    yeah, I can get a little verbally nasty too when provoked. but life;s too short, and too busy, I;m unsubscribing., blog away about what a horrible person I am.

  • DC

    Can we knock off the personal insults? Maybe this topic needs to be closed.

  • http://www.tktaylor.com Tracey Taylor

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