Berkeley neighbors express concerns after homicide

The man police believe was Berkeley's first homicide victim of 2014 lived in this building on Addison Street. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The man police believe was Berkeley’s first homicide victim of 2014 lived in this building on Addison Street. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Five days after police found the body of a man they say was Berkeley’s first homicide of 2014, authorities have not released many basic facts about the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Some residents of the man’s West Berkeley neighborhood said Tuesday the lack of information has left them feeling unsettled and unsafe. The two-block stretch of Addison Street has struggled to overcome a slew of past problems, from homeless squatters to prostitution and drug dealing, though improved conditions have come about in recent years, they said.

Police have not released the identity of the man found dead in his apartment in the 1100 block of Addison, just east of San Pablo Avenue, on Friday, nor have they said how they determined his death to have been a homicide, how he appears to have been killed, or when he actually died.

Some of the dead man’s neighbors — who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns because so little is known yet publicly about the apparent crime — said the victim had lived in his second-floor apartment in a four-unit building on Addison for at least five years.


Two neighbors said officers were “coming and going” throughout the weekend while investigating the case.

Read full Berkeleyside coverage of the case.

Police were called to do a welfare check on the man Friday shortly before noon, at which point they found his body. Later in the day, they determined the death to have been a homicide. Police said in a statement released Saturday that the man was in his 50s, but provided no additional information.

“The lack of information is unsettling,” one neighbor said. “I just would like the resolution, the closure.”

A longtime resident said the man’s girlfriend had come to the building Friday to ask the landlord if he had seen the man, having been unable to reach him for a week. The resident said it was the landlord who then called police to investigate.

Image: Google Maps
The 1100 block of Addison runs from San Pablo Avenue to Curtis Street. It is split to the south by Byron Street. Image: Google Maps

Neighbors said that, previously, they had been troubled by frequent disturbances in the man’s apartment, from extended bouts of “screaming and fighting” to early morning outbursts and “really loud,” rapid talking from at least one of the man’s associates.

The longtime resident, who has been on the block for nearly 20 years, said the man had been served a 60-day eviction notice in mid- to late December due to problems with noise.

“And I’m hard of hearing,” she said. “I wear hearing aids. So, if I can hear it, it’s really loud.”

One neighbor said she believed the man had a job, but another said he didn’t work.

Berkeley resident, property owner and neighborhood activist Jim Smith visited the block Tuesday to speak with residents to learn what he could about the man’s death.

He said he’s been connected to the block for approximately two decades — though he lives in another part of town — as a community “enforcer” who has worked to help clean up the street in the face of persistent problems.

“I’ve responded to the block at least 100 times, maybe 200,” he said.

Over the years, he said he’s worked to identify people causing problems, track them to where they’re staying, and work with neighbors, landlords and police to have them removed.

Marked improvements in the neighborhood

In recent years, the neighborhood has seen marked improvements and much less trouble from crimes such as drug dealing, squatting, panhandling and prostitution, Smith added.

But he said there had been ongoing issues related to the man who was killed, and that he had once eaten dinner at the man’s home.

“I’ve mediated problems between the man that was killed and other people in the neighborhood,” he told a group of Berkeley residents earlier this week at a local crime and safety meeting. Smith said he’d previously heard about noise complaints from neighbors “even down the block” from the man’s home.

Neighbors identified the man Tuesday by his first name, but asked that it not be printed until authorities release it officially.

In response to daily requests since Saturday for more information, police have declined to release any details beyond an initial statement published and sent out Saturday morning.

“Once more information is available I will release it,” said Officer Jennifer Coats, Berkeley Police spokeswoman, via email Saturday afternoon. “Any further release so early in the investigation could jeopardize the case.”

Berkeley had four homicides in 2013, and defendants have been charged with murder in all four cases. The prior year, there were six, with no arrests reported in three of the cases. In 2011, Berkeley had just one homicide, which also remains unsolved.

Berkeley Police ask anyone with information on this case to call the Homicide Detail at 510-981-5741, or the department’s non-emergency line at 510-981-5900. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can use the Bay Area Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 800-222-TIPS (8477).

Related:
Breaking: 1 held, 1 freed in Berkeley hatchet homicide (10.23.14)
Berkeley police investigating homicide on Addison Street (03.01.14)

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