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).

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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  • guest

    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.

    If you don’t want homeless squatters and vagrants on your street, stop voting down quality of life laws like the failed Sit/Lie law.

  • guest

    Irrelevant. The man was a tenant not a vagrant or a squatter. Maybe not a good tenant but a tenant nonetheless.

  • guest

    Irrelevant comment. The quote from the story discusses homeless squatters as one of the many problems this block has had recently.

  • EBGuy

    I’d call his comment tangential, as it was talking about general street conditions on Addison. That said, there is already an Lie ordinance on the books, and the proposed Sit ordinance targeted commercial districts only. Most of the two block section of Addison is residential, so the Sit (and existing Lie) ordinance would not apply there.

  • JuiceWeasel

    Let’s keep a prayer in our hearts for the victim. This is truly sad and tragic.

  • suckatash

    Who is this Jim Smith and why is he in everyone’s business?

  • Chris

    I’m curious – what percentage of Berkeley homicides in the last 10 years have occurred within a 5-10 block radius of UNIV & San Pablo?

  • guest

    >Measure S would not have applied to this neighborhood,

    That’s not what the opponents of Measure S said. They claimed it would extend to sidewalks city-wide.

  • emraguso

    Maybe they have leads but not enough for an arrest. Hard to say!

  • Iceland_1622

    This would be one very powerful ‘first’ step and neighborhood community builder:

    “Oakland neighbors increasingly use surveillance for security”

    “The motion-activated surveillance camera outside Jesper Jurcenoks’ home in the Oakland hills takes some 12,000 pictures a day.

    Every car, motorcycle, delivery truck, police car, bicyclist, pedestrian and deer that enters his isolated street off Skyline Boulevard gets photographed. Four times a second. Day and night. When they arrive and when they leave, time-stamped and stored on a server for 60 days.”

  • Edward C. Moore

    Jim Smith is a former president of an association of Black property owners in Berkeley. For the past 20 years that I am aware of he has been very effectively helpful to many, many property owners regardless of race in working to stop overt criminal behavior (chiefly drug dealing) in troublesome buildings and blocks in and about west Berkeley. We should be so luck to have a few more Jim Smiths in this world who devote their time and energy at no small personal risk to helping colleagues, neighbors and strangers clean up their neighborhoods.

  • bgal4

    We do. The problem is NOT a lack of dedicated and competent community partners, but rather the disturbing habit of key city officials to rescind reforms which support safer neighborhoods. The improved operational practices disappear without explanation betraying the public trust and setting back progress decades. I served on the board of Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee with Smith for years.

  • Edward C. Moore

    bgal4, instead of a blanket condemnation, can you cite a few examples of ‘reforms supporting safer neighborhoods’ which were rescinded by key city officials?

  • suckatash

    Thanks to you both. The background and context of Mr. Smith was completely absent in the article. B-side commence enhance the product once again!

  • guest

    Irrelevant. The man was a tenant not a vagrant or a squatter. Maybe not a good tenant but a tenant nonetheless.

  • emraguso

    Interesting thought. I described him as “Berkeley resident, property owner and neighborhood activist” and described his activities in the neighborhood going back decades as he described them to me. It’s unclear to me why this did not strike you as background and context, but I fully agree that a lot more could be said about Mr. Smith. He has a fascinating story.

  • Mel Content

    I wouldn’t smear Mr. Smith with the epithet of “activist”, as by the account of other posters here, he actually does something productive..

  • bgal4

    community organizer is more apt

  • emraguso

    Is activist a dirty word?

  • bgal4

    in Berkeley it has a duplicitous meaning.

  • guest

    Activist is only a dirty word to some people – but many of those people would also say that “community organizer” is a dirty word. Remember how contemptuous the Republicans were that Obama had been a “community organizer.”