Man charged with attempted murder after setting sleeping woman’s tent on fire

A homeless camp in northwest Berkeley along the railroad tracks in the neighborhood of Second and Harrison streets. Photo: Citizen reporter

A 43-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder after police say he tried to set his former girlfriend’s tent on fire as she slept, then violently attacked her in Berkeley last week.

James Dwayne Sykes was charged Friday by the Alameda County district attorney’s office with premeditated, attempted murder, and arson of an inhabited structure or property. The location was identified in court papers as the homeless encampment at Second Street north of Harrison Street in West Berkeley.

Sykes also was charged with a third felony, injury to a relationship partner. He could be sent to prison if convicted.

The incident happened last Wednesday, Jan. 25. Police said in court papers that Sykes, who had dated the victim, set fire to the woman’s tent while she was sleeping.


“When the victim exited the burning tent, Sykes punched her in the head and face, pulled her to the ground by her hair, and choked her to the verge of unconsciousness,” police wrote in court documents.

The woman was left with visible injuries on her face, head, neck and upper chest, and also was burnt on the ankle during the fire.

Police said Sykes admitted to being in the area when the fire happened, and had a burn on his leg.

Police found him at University Avenue and Second Street and arrested him at 9:20 a.m. the same day. According to court papers, he has no listed home address.

Community members have reported on Berkeleyside that homeless campers moved into the area of Second and Harrison streets following repeated clean-up attempts by authorities at the Gilman Street homeless camp.


Sykes has just one prior conviction, according to court papers, in August 2014 for receiving stolen property. He was incarcerated for some period of time as a result of the felony.

Sykes is set to enter a plea in the case Monday in Alameda County Superior Court.

He is being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, according to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s office.