Berkeley murder suspect DeWitt breaks deputy’s jaw

Daniel Jordan DeWitt: charged with February 18 murder of Peter Cukor in the Berkeley hills

Daniel Jordan DeWitt, the 23-year old charged with murdering Peter Cukor, 67, outside his Berkeley Hills home on February 18, yesterday punched an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy and broke his jaw, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

DeWitt was being placed in waist and leg chains ahead of being transported to Napa State Hospital when he punched the deputy without warning at John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro.

DeWitt, who according to his family was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia five years ago, allegedly punched and kicked a nurse at the same psychiatric facility in 2010.

Sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson told the Chronicle: “Unfortunately, there are people in society who will strike out at a moment’s notice and for no reason. Those are the kind of people we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Cukor was bludgeoned to death outside his home on Park Gate on the evening of February 18 after returning home with his wife and seeing a suspicious person loitering on this property.

DeWitt has been charged with murder, but an Alameda County Court Judge ruled in March that he was incompetent to stand trial and has ordered him to be committed to Napa State Hospital. Dewitt  has been in and out of mental hospitals since he was 18. DeWitt’s family has said they tried to get him repeatedly admitted for long-term treatment but DeWitt declined to receive it. Under California law, it is difficult to commit people to mental institutions without their consent.

Last month, Peter Cukor’s son Christopher Cuckor said: “Daniel DeWitt should have been locked up long ago – he was a clear danger to himself and others.” The Cukors called on Alameda County to adopt Laura’s Law which would make it easier to provide long-term treatment to those who need it.

Suspect not competent to stand trial in Cukor murder [03.22.12]
Murder suspect trial delayed for psychological assessment [02.24.12]
Alleged killer had been in and out of mental institutions [02.21.12]
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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  • berkopinonator

    Violent paranoid schizophrenics that refuse to take their medications should not be allowed to roam free anywhere they want. 

  • Anonymous

     Violent paranoid schizophrenics should not be allowed to roam free anywhere they want.  FIxed it for you.

  • John Holland

    Does anyone know if he is being treated for his mental health in jail?

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     There are many here in Berkeley who still think he deserves another chance and that he can be reformed…I’m not one of them! But i’m sure we will be reading 10 years from now about how he was released from napa , “decided” to stop taking his meds and Killed someone else. Just call me a realist.

  • bgal4

    Berkeley’s Mental Health Commission is recommending to city council to NOT support enacting Laura’s Law. They are against compelling treatment resistant mentally ill folks to take medication against their will.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     It doesn’t really matter because people like this are ticking time bombs…at any time he can decide to stop taking his meds and he’s back to square one. treating schizophrenics doesn’t heal them it just manages their disease until they choose to stop.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    doesn’t really matter because people like this are ticking time
    bombs…at any time he can decide to stop taking his meds and he’s back
    to square one. treating schizophrenics doesn’t heal them it just manages
    their disease until they choose to stop. Edit Reply

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     It doesn’t really matter because people like this are ticking time
    bombs…at any time he can decide to stop taking his meds and he’s back
    to square one. treating schizophrenics doesn’t heal them it just manages
    their disease until they choose to stop.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Disqus isn’t working properly again when trying to reply it places the reply as a new comment

  • Heather_W_62

    Yeah, cause you wouldn’t want the myriad mentally ill people roaming Berkeley streets to get any assistance. Pffft on the Health Commission. 

  • Heather_W_62

    I believe he would be receiving limited services. It’s required by Law that inmates receive treatment. However, treating mental illnesses with various ‘cocktails’ takes time to manage, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was receiving some kind of meds but probably not the right cocktail for his needs. 

  • BHills

    Seeing this headline shocked me.  Again.  The same person who killed my neighbor and previously had attacked a nurse now has injured someone else.  It is against logic to think that this individual’s ‘will’ should be respected when his will empirically includes killing or injuring others for reasons known only to him.

    I wish we as a society had the courage to keep this man and others similarly afflicted permanently separated from those of us who simply are trying to enjoy our home in peace or safely go about our business. 

  • BHills

    Ironically, yesterday I heard a report on the radio about a local man who has been arrested for failing to take TB medication.  See the link below.

  • shrinkwrapper

    Inmates at Santa RIta can’t receive involuntary medications, with the exception of a single emergency injection during transport on a 5150 to a locked psychiatric facility(JGP). They can accept oral meds VOLUNTARILY in jail.
    I don’t know the rationale behind Berkeley Mental health Commission’s decision on Laura’s Law-but I can say that they are in line with almost all the Counties in California that chose not to adopt it some 10 years ago, when it was enacted. It has virtually no impact on prevention of this kind of crime. It has no “teeth”-no consequence to a patient’s refusal to accept the complicated legal mechanisms-the only result of failure to comply(not take meds) is a 5150 (72 hour involuntary hold)-maybe-which will still not force pt’s to accept anything other than an emergency injection or 2. If you search for the details of the law, you will see the prohibitively complex limitations . It adds so many difficult steps, with so little to show for it. It would only provide a false sense of security. I doubt it would have prevented Mr. DeWitt’s initial actions that got him where he is now. Despite the assault at JGP before Mr. Cukor’s murder, the “track record” for Mr. DeWitt would not have reached the threshold for Laura’s Law to be triggered. Sadly, assaultive behavior is an increasingly common occurrence in a subgroup of this patient population. The vast majority of patient’s with this diagnosis are not at all violent. 

     The real need is for the legislature in Sacramento to pass laws that will substantially change the commitment laws, conservatorship proceedings, as well as improve the sorely lacking quality and number of residential facilities that are needed. As long as dangerous patients remain untreated by virtue of their own impaired decision-making  and  assertion of their existing rights, we will all live in an increasingly violent world.

  • Anonymous

    Thomas Szasz still carries a lot of weight with both the right and left even though, at least as far as schizophrenia is concerned, his critique is 60 years out of date.  I hate to even imagine the clowns the city council appoints to the Mental Health Commission but I’m guessing they are of the schizophrenia-is-really-just-unrecognized-brilliance anti-intellectual variety instead of the my-personal-rights-above-all-else antisocial kind?

  • Haselstein

    Thanks for this. I recall that when Reagan and Brown closed the state mental health facilities, Brown rationalized it, saying that there would be local facilities, but they did not materialize. Not only are some of these people dangerous, but I believe that allowing mentally ill people to be homeless and vulnerable to predators is immoral. The jails have become their emergency rooms, and that is just plain wrong. 

  • shrinkwrapper

    Yes, thank you for your comments. I recently found statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health, in 2008-the most recent available, that local jails had ~60% of their inmates with a mental disorder, state prisons were ~ 50% and federal prisons were ~45%. These are gigantic numbers. No one seems to be funding research on the most current statistics. My belief is that the results would be so disturbing that the government would have to act-and that costs lots of money, and would require changes in the law. The reality is that we read about these terrible tragedies all the time. I’m sure the incidence rates of untreated, violent , mentally ill individuals is rising. It is immoral to use incarceration and criminalization as a way to treat these individuals. It is also immoral to have the public be victimized in order incarcerate, then “treat” the mentally ill, now violent, offender.

  • bgal4

    The recent results from the LA County pilot program implementing Laura’s Law show dramatic reductions in both incarceration and emergency room care for mentally ill who are under supervision and monitored in outpatient programs authorized by Laura’s Law.

    We need multiple options to care for the various levels of needs and challenges of the mentally ill.

    I completely agree that commitment and conservatorship laws need legislative revisions, but Laura’s Law also has a place in a comprehensive set of treatment options and programs.

  • shrinkwrapper

    I can accept that Laura’s Law may have a place. It will help those motivated to comply when they receive intensive outpatient monitoring. Alameda County has a program, called STRIDES, for recitivistic patients. It does help. My concern is that Laura’s Law has significant limitations. A stronger version that would encompass a wider grouping of eligible candidates will improve public safety.

  • Bruce Love

    The recent results from the LA County pilot program implementing Laura’s Law

    LA County implemented a pilot voluntary system, not a Laura’s Law involuntary system.   (There was still some compulsion of a sort because they implemented it as a jail diversion program for people guilty of misdemeanors.)

    Many Laura’s Law opponents argue that what studies there are show voluntary AOT programs like in L.A.’s test work as well or better than Laura’s Law,.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    It said that he was at JGP (the psych ward) en route to Napa State.  So apparently medicated, but not enough to prevent this.  

  • shrinkwrapper

    Being at JGP doesn’t guarantee that a patient is adequately medicated. There may not be a medication to do the job, short of putting him into a stupor. Patients who are given meds may still strike out if responding to command hallucinations, delusions, paranoia. These symptoms can be treatment- resistant. Imagine having to restrain a patient for every dose of antipsychotics and additional meds. This is a dangerous job for staff, RNs, doctors, deputies, and others.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Oh, absolutely.   Definitely a dangerous job and those folks have my respect. 

  • bgal4

     Thanks, I agree.

    Like many families I have faced many of these issues personally.

  • shrinkwrapper

    I’m sorry to hear that. I get very involved in this subject for similar reasons. It is so painful to hear about these tragedies and feel powerless to stop them.

  • Nojoke

    Anytime I look at that animals picture I feel sick to my stomach thinking how he killed a man for no reason other then he wanted to. Really, the  only medication he needs is the kind they give you when your tied to a  table and put you to sleep.

  • If the science has advanced in the past 60 years, what biological test confirms a diagnosis of schizophrenia today? What biological test — scan, blood, urine, etc. — confirms ANY psychiatric diagnosis. 

    In truth, Szasz’s critique is stronger than ever as psychiatric fads ebb and flow. 

    Sixty years ago homosexuality was a paradigmatic “mental illness,” but what is it today? What new biological discovery transformed homosexuals from diseased to healthy? What new biological discovery transformed masturbation from psychiatric disease to treatment?

    There is still not a single genuine physical disease treated by psychiatrists; they are treated by neurologists. Just as 60 years ago, psychiatrists treat imaginary diseases affecting an imaginary thing called the “mind.”

  • in fact, people diagnosed as “mentally ill” are no more violent than the general population. Studies have shown this for years.

  • Could you refer to some data showing that psychiatrically medicated people are less likely to commit violent crimes?

  • Every American has a right to refuse medical (or pseudo-medical treatment). People should be arrested and tried for the crimes they commit with no phony mental health excuses. People should NOT be detained or coerced for crimes they have not committed.

  • BHills

    This situation is frustrating and confusing.  Here is an attempt to say why and to suggest how to handle cases such as this more effectively.

    Mr. DeWitt cannot at this time participate in the normal criminal justice process that is familiar to all of us.  The decision has been made by a Judge that DeWitt is too ill to help an attorney devise and carry out a defense or enter into a plea bargain.  Unfortunately, this means that to whatever extent we are satisfied that ‘justice has been served’ when a perpetrator is tried, convicted, sentenced, and incarcerated will be unsatisfied in this case.

    The system that Mr. DeWitt entered after the judicial determination of his incompetence to stand trial is much less familiar to us.  This lack of familiarity probably leads us to question its effectiveness.  Some of the information given below by shrinkwrapper reinforces this doubt.  For example, shrinkwrapper states (with an authority apparently indicating knowledge) that ‘Inmates at Santa RIta can’t receive involuntary medications.’

    What this means is that Mr. DeWitt’s treatment during the time that he was incarcerated (February 18th-May 17th) was based on WHERE he was rather than on his MEDICAL CONDITION.  Although I ‘know’ why he was jailed for those three months, I also know that this is an incorrect result.  After all, we know for a fact that this man is so ill that he is capable of committing violent crimes for which he is incapable of standing trial.

    A person who is judicially determined with apparent fairness and accuracy to be incapable of participating in one of our basic social institutions – the criminal justice system – should be deemed by extension incapable of participating in other social institutions as well.  Such an extension of the meaning of incompetence to stand trial could include denying the incompetent individual the right to refuse to be medicated for his or her illness.

    Mr. DeWitt has proven himself to be a threat to anyone within his reach.  We who might have been or might be harmed or killed by him have rights that Mr. DeWitt no longer has.  He forfeited them (even though at the behest of an illness the he did not cause) when he brutally killed my neighbor.

  • shrinkwrapper

    Yes, well, should and could are one thing, reality is another. I agree with your premise. However, the legal system isn’t amenable to these logical conclusions. Undoing the civil liberties is like putting the Genie back in the bottle. As long as there are those who believe an individual such as Mr. Dewitt has a made-up illness, and is really well(?), really(?)-we will stay where we are, stuck. I just wonder if the Szaz advocates would have Mr. DeWitt as their neighbor? I met Dr. Szaz years ago back East , interviewing a patient. Yes, a patient. He wasn’t as convincing an advocate for “there’s nothing wrong with this guy” as believed. His writings are one thing. He lived in the real world, too.

  • Bruce Love

     I don’t know if this will be of any comfort to you but perhaps:

    California law does make provisions for forcing medication on someone.   The barrier is high but the court can appoint a custodian to make medical decisions.   In the throws of an emergency, such as when someone has been taken into custody and delivered to a psych. ward, the state has more liberal rights for 1-time or very short term forcible administration of drugs.

    Federal courts take an extremely conservative view of when it is permissible for the state to force drugs on a person apparently guilty of a serious crime, yet not competent to stand trial.  For example, the earlier situation of the man who shot Gabrielle Giffords (and others):

    The alternative to this conservative view would be to empower the state to impose very serious medical decisions.   History has shown how such powers tend towards broad abuse.

    What might be of some value to you here is that DeWitt won’t be on the street anytime soon.   He has lost his freedom.    If he reaches a state of sufficient competence he will likely stand trial but, in any event, he won’t be wandering about.

    Obviously *something* went badly wrong that this officer got his jaw busted.   The news accounts suggest that the people handling him were surprised.  Were they not, they’d  have taken more abundant precautions when binding him for transport.

    Incidentally, the wheels of justice grind slowly but Laughner is being forcibly medicated now:

  • bgal4

     And in the real world we in Berkeley fund a mental health commission for what exactly.
    Alameda County is one of the worst counties for social services and Berkeley has an concentration of service resistant mentally ill on the street.

    Dismantle the mental health commission, they are not authorized by initiative so it should not be that difficult, after all Bates dissolved the Citizens Budget commission with a wave of his hand.

  • Anonymous

     “What biological test — scan, blood, urine, etc. — confirms ANY psychiatric diagnosis.”

    There isn’t one, just like there isn’t for lupus and lots of other overly-broad and poorly understood syndromes.  That doesn’t make them any less real.

    “Sixty years ago homosexuality was a paradigmatic “mental illness,” but what is it today”

    That depends on where you live.

    Look, I’m no fan of psychiatry or psychology in general and think the vast majority is complete pseudo-science or worse.  But denying that there is an organic basis to schizophrenia knowing what we know now about the biochemistry and genetics of it is isn’t even ignorant, it’s reckless and dangerous as this case is a perfect example of.

  • Anonymous

    “Every American has a right to refuse medical (or pseudo-medical treatment).”

    I’m assuming that’s the Ayn Rand or Scientology talking and you don’t truly believe that, otherwise you’re a complete sociopath and would probably be much happier living outside of society.  You honestly think we have no right to forcibly treat someone who, just to pick a recent example, has active TB but refuses medication? He should just be able to walk around infecting people?

  • Anonymous

     This is simply not true.  You can start with the NIMH Catchment study from 30 years ago and go from there.

  • Bruce Love

     The more recent stuff I’ve seen is all like this:

    A new study finds that the severe mental disorder schizophrenia only marginally increases the risk of committing violent crime. Rather, the overrepresentation of individuals with schizophrenia in violent crime is almost entirely attributable to concurrent substance abuse.


    “Hence, the idea that people with schizophrenia are generally more
    violent than those without is not true,” says Dr Niklas Långström, one
    of the researchers behind the study. “People with schizophrenia but no
    co-occurring substance abuse are insignificantly more violent than
    people in general.”

  • Anonymous

    An abstract of an abstract, nice work “Bruce”.  This sort of simple correlational resesearch is garbage, it’s just as likely that the subjects were self-medicating to become less violent.  There’s a huge literature of real epidemiological research about this topic, I already mentioned the seminal work if you’re interested in actually reading something more than JAMA abstracts written by handsome Swedes.

  • Bruce Love

    JAMA abstracts written by handsome Swedes.

    We’re done.

  • Guest

    have you seen pictures of Niklas Långström? he is quite good looking.

  • shrinkwrapper

    We have limits to rights. You can’t kill other people or yourself or threaten to do so. We don’t throw everyone in jail who is suicidal. I can’t imagine you feel ok about letting suicidal individuals kill themselves without getting a chance to wait and consider other options. Maybe you do. You are entitled to your opinion…..
    The Tarasoff law exists to warn potential victims of violence and detain threatening individuals who will be held involuntarily. I can’t say that it’s a good idea to wait until a murder has been committed in order to detain someone. We have enough of that already.

  • shrinkwrapper

    I don’t know what that Commision does. I can’t compare social services across counties, we seem to have more than a number I’m aware of, probably less than SF, more than CCC or Santa Cruz County, but I know we have a large number of individuals utilizing services. This county is big and heavily populated. I’m not in a position to comment on Berkeley alone. I don’t know the history of their separating out from the County mental health services. Is it helping?

  • BHills

     One of the most interesting features of the events surrounding the killing of Peter Cukor is the complete absence of any claim that Mr. DeWitt’s rights somehow are being violated.  In the meantime, two people have suffered physical injury and one is dead.

    Yes, it is clear that DeWitt will not be released anytime soon.  Given what has taken place so far, the best and worst case is that DeWitt in the future will be declared competent and put on trial.  The obvious defense will be the plea of ‘insanity’ and his best proof will be the judicial recognition of his incompetence to stand trial.  So back to Napa he will go.

    The fact that he won’t be able to come back to my neighborhood is good, but he will attack those around him.  Thus caregivers and staff as as other patients remain in danger.

    I do see value in the account of what happened when the deputy was injured.  According to the Chronicle, “[The injured deputy] was getting ready to cuff [DeWitt] up, and he turned around and hit the deputy….No words were exchanged,  There was no problem.” 

    This information ought to put to rest any (baseless anyway) speculation that Peter Cukor somehow provoked or goaded DeWitt into violence.  DeWitt’s demons appear to supply all of the inducement to violence that he requires.

  • BHills

    Yes, we twist ourselves into pretzels trying to protect DeWitt’s rights while he continues to trample upon the civil liberties of his victims and of the larger community.

    I will pit my judgment against anyone who claims DeWitt is faking.  How other than mental incompetence would anyone explain why a man who had just killed another man would stand around drenched in his victim’s blood while the police came to arrest him?  I heard the sirens coming from ‘a mile away’ and he must have heard them as well.  Anyone in his ‘right mind’ would at least have tried to evade arrest.  Wouldn’t he or she?

  • bgal4

    I based my assessment on personal knowledge of the counties you mention, reports from several social workers over many years, and reviewing documents such as county program evaluations and strategic plans.

    Consumers access is a good indicator of how well the system functions.

    LA county was very good in assisting our family with a 5150 hold followed by a 5250.

    Berkeley and Alameda county fail.

    More than one Alameda County social worker confirmed my conclusions about specific program failures drawn from direct experience. As did several state health dept superiors during my heroic effort to merely fix a data error in the eligibility system.

    It was shocking.

    Santa Cruz county, far better service and accountability for errors.

  • BHills

     *as well as*  *exchanged.*

  • shrinkwrapper

    Thank you for supporting your statements. It is hard to get useful information on these subjects. There is plenty of opinion out there, but less first hand knowledge. I appreciate your observations and will make note of it. I can understand the frustration with our local services.

  • shrinkwrapper

    I don’t see any cause for complaining that DeWitt’s rights were violated. There are some comments on this site that suggest that he, and anyone with a psychiatric diagnosis, actually has no mental illness. Thus, his rights would be violated for being held on psychiatric grounds. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how these views can be propounded in this day and age. 
    I didn’t think there was any report suggesting Mr. Cukor did anything to bring on the violence.