Alleged killer had been in and out of mental institutions

KTVU broadcast this image of suspect Daniel Jordan Dewitt

Update: 5:25 pm: The Berkeley Police Department released the following updated and additional information regarding the February 18 homicide at around 5:00pm today. BPD identifies the victim as Peter Cukor, and includes a statement from BPD Chief Michael Meehan:

“Several published and on-line reports relied on a single account of an inaccurate chronology of this incident. Please note below the actual timelines of the initial stages of this case.

At approximately 8:45 PM, BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller reported an encounter with an unknown person “hanging around” his property, and asked that an officer be sent to investigate. This call for service was queued for dispatch.

At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest march which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. Concerns about the potential for violence associated with the march resulted in plans to allocate officers to monitor the march.

At approximately 9:00 PM, an officer, seeing several pending calls for service, including two “suspicious circumstances”, offered to respond to either of the calls. The officer’s offer was declined, as only in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched. 

Two minutes later, at approximately 9:02 PM, BPD received a phone call reporting an attack in progress. The previous call information was updated and officers were dispatched within one minute. Officers were cleared to proceed using their emergency lights and sirens to the Park Gate location.

The first officer broadcast arrival on scene in the northeastern hill neighborhood within five minutes of being dispatched. Numerous officers arrived over the next few minutes.

An officer located the victim, called for paramedic assistance, and began providing first aid. Berkeley Fire Department paramedics had also been assigned to respond, and were en route. Paramedics arrived on scene and took over care of the victim.

Within fifteen minutes, at approximately 9:22 PM, the suspect was located nearby, detained, and subsequently arrested.

BPD is confirming the identity of the homicide victim as Peter Myron Cukor, 67 yrs old, of Berkeley.

We are not releasing the booking photo at this time. We anticipate releasing the booking photo after our investigators are sure that all potential witness interviews have been completed, and no further witness identifications are necessary. Release of a booking photo in the early stages of an investigation can compromise identifications, the investigation, and subsequent prosecution.

We are not releasing the recordings of the calls at this time.

The investigation in this case continues and is on-going. The suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, remains in custody. Mr. Dewitt is scheduled to be arraigned on February 22, 2012, at 2:00 PM, in Department 112 at the Alameda County Courthouse.

We are urging anyone who may know anything about this crime to please call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741, or the non-emergency number at (510) 981-5900. Any additional information may be critical in the efforts towards the charging and prosecution of this case.

Chief Michael Meehan said, “This case cannot help but deeply affect the members of our community and the men and women of our police department, who are devoting their working lives to protecting this community. We are carefully reviewing the circumstances of this case in depth to ensure everything possible was done to properly respond to this tragic event.”

Original story: The 23-year old who is suspected of killing a 67-year old man in the Berkeley hills on February 18 is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in and out of mental institutions for the past five years.

Despite his severe mental illness, Daniel Jordan Dewitt has never been committed to long-term psychiatric care, which his family felt he needed, according a family friend who asked not to be named. State laws make it very difficult for anyone to be institutionalized against their will.

“I can’t tell you how many times he has been in and out of the hospital,” Candy Dewitt told the Oakland Tribune. “I don’t know what happened but our system has to change or else this will keep happening.”

“Our system is such that they go in, they shove them full of all kinds of antipsychotics and put them back out on the street again,” DeWitt told KTVU Channel 2.

Candy Dewitt also told the television station she had seen her son on Friday, and “there was no indication he was violent.” He had not been taking his anti-psychotic medication, however, and had been trying to treat himself with diet and exercise. DeWitt said he seemed to be getting worse.

“Not only are our lives affected but now it has affected someone else which is impossible almost for me to think about,” she said.

Daniel Jordan Dewitt grew up in Alameda, the grandson of Al DeWitt, that city’s first African-American city council member and long time civic leader. He now lives in Oakland, according to the family friend. Dewitt, a graduate of Alameda High School, was first diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18.

The house of Peter Cukor, who was murdered Saturday night, at Park Gate near Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills.

The 67-year old victim, whom news sources but not the Berkeley police have identified as Peter Cukor, a chemical engineer who ran a systems integration and consulting firm, was killed around 8:45 pm Saturday night. Cukor and his wife arrived home and found Dewitt near their garage at 2 Park Gate Road, near the intersection of Grizzly Peak and Shasta Road. Cukor asked DeWitt to leave and entered the house. A short time later, someone place a call to the police department’s non-emergency line to report a suspicious person and possible trespasser.

“The caller calmly reported an encounter with a strange person on his property, and asked for an officer to respond,” Lt. Andrew Greenwood said in a statement released Monday. “This call for service was queued for dispatch.”

Berkeley police did not send an officer immediately because of the non-emergency nature of the call and the fact that the department was tied up preparing for an Occupy Oakland march that was expected to come into Berkeley city limits soon, said Lt. Greenwood.

A short time later Cukor left his residence and was allegedly attacked and killed by Dewitt.

“Peter Cukor, who lives near a fire station on Shasta Road, decided to walk to the station to summon firefighters for help, possibly medical help, for the suspect,” the Tribune reported, attributing the information to an unnamed source. “Firefighters were out on a call, and when Cukor returned from the station, he was pushed to the ground, dragged into the bushes and then beaten — while his wife watched — with an outdoor planter pot, the source said.”

Dewitt is being held without bail at Alameda County jail and will be arraigned on Wednesday.

The fact that the Berkeley police department was tied up with an Occupy protests and did not immediately respond to a call from the Cukor household has thrust this killing into the limelight. Numerous conservative commentators are suggesting that the Occupy movement is to blame for tying up scarce political resources.

“A 67-year old Berkeley man who was attacked in his own home desperately called a non-emergency line for help, but police were too busy to respond while they monitored an Occupy Oakland march,” said one writer on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government blog.

“Berkeley Man Beaten To Death While Police Too Busy Monitoring Occupy Oakland Protest To Respond,” read one tweet.

Occupy supporters have said the marchers didn’t have anything to do with the murder since they didn’t even get to Berkeley until 15 minutes after the attack.

Berkeley hills neighbors react with shock to brutal murder [02.20.12]
Intruder assaults, kills homeowner on Grizzly Peak [02.19.12]

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  • bgal4

    From EBX article you link to:

    DeWitt’s father, Al DeWitt Jr., said his son was diagnosed with paranoid
    schizophrenia and has been in mental health facilities at least nine times. “We wanted him to be treated and taken care of because we love him,” DeWitt Jr. said. “We advocated for that so many times with the hospital, with the doctors, with the psychiatrists. We tried to inform them how he was thinking and what was going on and they just kept
    letting him go, kept putting him out. They would give him a BART ticket and a voucher for a shelter and say, ‘Goodbye.’ That’s John George [Psychiatric Pavilion of Alameda County Medical Center]. It’s a shame.

    “Even though we’ve lived with him — we know him — they just don’t listen to the loved ones,” DeWitt Jr. continued. “We’ve had so many people call us who we don’t know who say they are going through the same
    thing. It is just nbelievable how many people are out there and can’t get help.

    “If we had Laura’s Law,” he added, “it definitely would have helped us.”

  • bgal4

    As the article you link to points out very clearly, the only reason Alameda County and CoCo County are slow to implement Laura Law

    The Alameda County Supervisor who was against Laura’s Law is no longer on the board, so we might see progress soon.

  • bgal4

    From the article about Laura’s Law that Bruce refers to, you are mistaken that the law allows people to inject drugs against the patient will.

    “But the law is coercive only to the extent that it relies on the gravity of the court — the “power of the robe” — to compel seriously mentally ill individuals to accept treatment. Drugs cannot be administered involuntarily and there is no consequence if the patient refuses to comply with the court-assigned treatment program, except a judge can order him or her to be held for evaluation for 72 hours to determine whether in-patient treatment is needed.”

  • bgal4

     worse, intellectually dishonest

  • Bruce Love

    It is simply factually incorrect to say that “there is no consequence if the patient refuses to comply with the court-assigned treatment program, except a judge can order him or her to be held for evaluation for 72 hours to determine whether in-patient treatment is needed”.

    California Welfare and Institutions Code 5346(f) specifically expands the circumstances under which a subject of Laura’s Law may be subject to a non-adjudicated 72 hour hold which then can include involuntary medication.

    Even before a person is subject to a successful Laura’s Law petition there are consequences of such a petition having been filed: the person can be compelled to court under threat of a 72 hour hold.

  • I’m sorry, but you have no idea how this works in actuality.  Do it, I dare you.  Go to an ER, and say, “I’m hearing a voice that says to kill myself.  I’m very scared” and see what happens.  Oh yeah, and try quoting the law.  I’m sure that will help.

  • Yes, and this does happen.  Even the 2-week hold, which is “adjudicated”, is a kangaroo court.     

  • bgal4

     I believe in responsibility.

  • Yes – if people murder people, they should be put on trial, given due process, and put in jail.

  • The Sharkey


  • Jim Burks

    We once had a mental health system that could help people like Dewitt. In the wake of the movie “One Flew Over the Cucoo’s Nest”, the entire system was dismantled. It’s very difficult to confine someone, even if they are a danger to themselves or others.