Author Archives: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley orders balcony removal after tragedy kills 6

Students outside Tuesday's balcony collapse in Berkeley struggled to make sense of the tragedy that killed at least six Irish students. Photo: Emily Dugdale
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The city of Berkeley has ordered the property owner of a downtown apartment complex to remove a balcony that collapsed early Tuesday, killing six, and follow up with a structural assessment of the remaining balconies on the property within the next two days.

In a statement released at 11:30 a.m., city spokesman Matthai Chakko reported that building inspectors visited 2020 Kittredge St., between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue, early Tuesday morning to examine the scene at Library Gardens. The complex has two separate buildings with about 160 one- and two-bedroom units.

See complete coverage of the balcony collapse.

Authorities received reports beginning at 12:40 a.m. regarding a fifth-floor balcony that had collapsed in the apartment complex. (Editor’s note: Initially authorities said the balcony was on the fourth floor, because it was on the fourth residential story in the building.) There have been six confirmed fatalities of young people from Ireland reported to be living in the Bay Area for the summer. Seven others were critically injured.

The people who were injured were taken by ambulance to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. The city has not released the names of those who were killed or injured “Due to privacy concerns.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeleyside blotter: Crime in Berkeley, 5/28-6/3

Selected calls to the Berkeley Police, via CrimeMapping.com. Scroll down for detailed maps. Click the map above for the list. See the map key here.
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This overview of recent crime in Berkeley is based on reports to the Berkeley Police unless otherwise noted. Please don’t hesitate to share photos, videos or tips, about breaking news or neighborhood safety issues, via email at crime@berkeleyside.com or on Facebook or Twitter; let us know if you prefer to be anonymous. Don’t assume someone else will alert us — we value your eyes and ears, and you may be the only one to get in touch. We very much want to know about issues of neighborhood concern.

From May 28 to June 3, there were reports of four robberies, 17 burglaries13 assaults or batteries, no weapon-involved calls and three sexual assaults, according to CrimeMapping.com. There were also 14 stolen vehicles12 disturbances and 46 auto break-ins or thefts from vehicles reported. There were no significant incidents reported by the University of California Police Department (UCPD). These numbers are subject to change. Click the links for the latest numbers. The following items represent a sampling of calls, and times may be approximate; incidents that took place during a range of time are listed by the beginning of that time period. … Continue reading »

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Police report mistakes, challenges in Berkeley protests

Protesters and police clashed Dec. 6, 2014, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Photo: Gael McKeon
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Berkeley police officers used 50 tear gas grenades and “blast rounds” to clear Telegraph Avenue during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in December, but police officials declined to say Wednesday night whether that had been excessive.

The June 10 meeting before the city’s Police Review Commission was the citizen panel’s first chance to ask officers specific questions about the anti-police protests in Berkeley in December, following the release on Tuesday of a 161-page report completed by the department to analyze its response to the demonstrations.

After being charged with the task earlier this year by the Berkeley City Council, the PRC is working to complete its own investigation: questioning authorities, reviewing the police report, examining original documents and interviewing witnesses. Council asked the PRC to come back with its findings within six months.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told commissioners Wednesday night that, without “a full discussion about the facts and circumstances at the moments those decisions were made” — regarding tear gas use on Telegraph Avenue on Dec. 6-7, 2014 — he could not say whether an appropriate amount had been used or not. 

“It’s a discussion I think we should have,” Meehan said.

The time for that discussion, however, was apparently not Wednesday night. Meehan stressed that the department’s focus while doing its report had been to find strategies to avoid getting into situations where force becomes necessary. He noted that, once officers witness crimes being committed or are “already under attack, their options are limited.” … Continue reading »

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Police

Police Review Commission gets first chance for answers from Berkeley police after December protests

Protesters in Berkeley in December demanded an end to police brutality throughout the nation. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Six months after protesters took to the streets to demand more just policing practices, the Berkeley Police Department will tonight present its report on how it handled the protests, and what it might do better in the future.

The report is scheduled to come Wednesday, June 10, before the city’s Police Review Commission in a 6 p.m. meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center at 2939 Ellis St.

In recent months, the citizen oversight panel has been working on its own investigation into the protests, which were prompted by killings by officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. Many community members were outraged after police in Berkeley used tear gas and batons to clear crowds on Telegraph Avenue on Dec. 6, 2014, the first night of frequent, lengthy demonstrations throughout the month. The next night, police kept their distance much of the night, allowing extensive vandalism by some members of the crowd to ravage the city.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

The PRC plans to submit the findings of its own report to the Berkeley City Council in August after reviewing police documents related to the protests, and interviewing witnesses about what took place. Wednesday night will be the first chance for the commission to question Berkeley police in detail about their December decisions and actions.

In preparation for Wednesday night’s meeting, Berkeley Copwatch, a watchdog organization, has called for the resignation of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, citing “leadership failure” during the protests. According to Copwatch, the police investigation into the protests “identifies a series of bad decisions, system failures, skewed priorities and lack of mission clarity that Berkeley Copwatch feels are numerous enough to justify a call for Chief Michael Meehan to resign.”

A Copwatch statement released Wednesday morning continues, “this report identifies failures of leadership that include an inability to manage mutual aid forces, an inability to effectively distinguish between the need for crowd management and crowd control, an inability to identify a clear mission for local and mutual aid forces and an inability to gather and usefully employ information about what was actually happening in the streets on those nights.”

Berkeleyside reviewed the same protest-related documents the PRC requested from the city, and has posted them below along with brief summaries of what they contain. On Tuesday, the Police Department released the findings of its internal investigation, which included more than 30 recommendations for how the department might improve its practices in the future. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Police release long-awaited protest report

Berkeley protests, Dec. 8, 2014. Photo: Kim Aronson
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After launching an internal investigation earlier this year into the circumstances surrounding anti-police protests that tore through Berkeley in December, to examine how the department responded, the Berkeley Police Department has released its report on what took place and what might be improved in the future.

In a letter announcing the report, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan described the Dec. 6-7, 2014, demonstrations — which resulted in the tear gassing of a crowd on Telegraph Avenue and ongoing public criticism in response — as “significant civil unrest and violent protest.”

“It was immediately clear to the Department that the events of December 2014, which had not been experienced in Berkeley for decades, represented opportunities for our organization to learn and grow,” he wrote.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

Four Berkeley officers, Lt. Dave Frankel, Sgt. Dan Montgomery, Officer Ryan Andersen and Officer Darrin Rafferty, have been working full time on the project since it was assigned earlier this year. A report on the project is expected to come Wednesday night before the city’s Police Review Commission.  … Continue reading »

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Government

The lowdown: Berkeley council on short-term rentals, the budget, money for art, library renaming, mental health

2020 Vision Symposium, Oct. 11, Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley, CA. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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A large crowd is expected at this week’s Berkeley City Council meeting, which will take place in the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, 1500 Derby St. (near California Street). The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession and update focused on Berkeley’s participation in the Resilient Cities program (see the staff report). At its regular 7 p.m. meeting, council plans to look at the potential regulation of short-term rentals, like Airbnb units; budget recommendations for social service programs devoted to youth and homelessness; the city’s proposed percent-for-art ordinance; and more. (As usual, despite the location change, the meeting will be broadcast live on television and online, according to the city.) … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeleyside blotter: Crime in Berkeley, May 21-27

Selected calls to the Berkeley Police, via CrimeMapping.com. Scroll down for detailed maps. Click the map above for the list. See the map key here.
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This overview of recent crime in Berkeley is based on reports to the Berkeley Police unless otherwise noted. Please don’t hesitate to share photos, videos or tips, about breaking news or neighborhood safety issues, via email at crime@berkeleyside.com or on Facebook or Twitter; let us know if you prefer to be anonymous. Don’t assume someone else will alert us — we value your eyes and ears, and you may be the only one to get in touch. We very much want to know about issues of neighborhood concern.

From May 21-27, there were reports of three robberies28 burglaries11 assaults or batteries, one weapon-involved call and one sexual assault, according to CrimeMapping.com. There were also 12 stolen vehicleseight disturbances and 36 auto break-ins or thefts from vehicles reported. Significant incidents reported by the University of California Police Department (UCPD) included a robbery, two burglaries and a stolen vehicle. These numbers are subject to change. Click the links for the latest numbers. The following items represent a sampling of calls, and times may be approximate; incidents that took place during a range of time are listed by the beginning of that time period.

Thursday, May 21

There was a commercial burglary at 12:59 a.m. in the 1100 block of Second Street.

Three vehicles were stolen: at 1:30 a.m. in the 2200 block of Seventh Street; at 9:30 a.m. in the 2000 block of Los Angeles Avenue; and at 9 p.m. in the 2700 block of Forest Avenue. According to UCPD, a thief also stole a 1996 Honda Civic from the Underhill parking lot between 9:30 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

According to UCPD, a burglar stole property valued at $710 from an office in Sproul Hall sometime between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday.

There were five home burglaries: at 10 a.m. in the 1400 block of Ordway Street; at 11 a.m. in the 1900 block of Russell Street; at 4 p.m. in the 1600 block of Chestnut Street; at 6 p.m. in the 2200 block of Blake Street; and at 6:40 p.m. in the 1600 block of Allston Way.

There was a call involving a weapon at 3:54 p.m. in the 2200 block of Bonar Street. Police arrested Edward Levingston, 47, of Berkeley on suspicion of possession of nunchaku, a felony.

UCPD responded to a strong-arm robbery at about 9:30 p.m. in University Village in Albany. The robber took two mobile phones valued at $800. UCPD released the following statement: “A strong-arm robbery occurred along the Codornices Creek, near 540 Red Oak (Building 148)…. The victim, a 17-year-old male not affiliated with UCB, was contacted by three suspects who stole his backpack and then fled in a vehicle, southbound on 5th Street toward the City of Berkeley. The victims’ injuries were treated at the scene by the Albany Fire Department. UCPD, the Albany Police, and the Berkeley Police searched the area but were unable to locate the suspects.” The robbers were described as three black males about 20, one of whom had dreadlocks. All three wore dark clothing and fled in a blue vehicle similar to a Ford Focus. … Continue reading »

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Teachers at Berkeley Technology Academy raise the alarm

Berkeley Technology Academy. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Teachers at Berkeley’s alternative high school have raised concerns about the state of affairs on campus, citing “extreme behavior” among students, chronically low attendance, a lack of academic rigor, and a generally unsafe campus environment due to deficient security resources and limited district support.

Berkeley Unified School District officials and the school principal have repeatedly declined to speak in depth about safety at Berkeley Technology Academy, the district’s lone continuation high school. The campus serves the district’s highest-need students, many of whom are minorities who come from challenging home environments. Data reviewed by Berkeleyside paints a stark picture of increasing suspensions and dangerous activity at the school site in recent years, including a spike last year in suspensions related to assault or battery on school staff.

Read more about school safety issues on Berkeleyside.

The difficulties have come despite district efforts to improve the school by hiring a new principal — acclaimed in her previous district for outstanding leadership — who has worked to revamp BTA’s record keeping and data collection, upgrade campus infrastructure, and win accreditation for its coursework so the BTA diploma carries more clout for graduates. Graduation rates, too, have risen steadily in recent years.

Teachers say these changes have not been sufficient to address a slew of significant problems that remain widespread. They say school and district administrators have failed to respond adequately to concerns teachers have tried to resolve internally, and that the campus receives more of the highest-risk students than it can handle. Berkeleyside spoke with five BTA teachers and agreed to grant them anonymity — particularly because the campus has only about a dozen teachers on site — in response to fears they expressed about retaliation by the district.

As an alternative school serving what is for the most part a high-needs population, some of its problems may not be unique when compared to other alternative campuses. More than 90% of the students at BTA who were screened by a Berkeley mental health counselor found them to score high enough on a spectrum to be diagnosed with complex traumatic stress disorder. “That’s repeat exposure or daily exposure to extreme poverty, homelessness, harassment from police, drug addiction, domestic violence, or some combination of those factors, that take place in a lot of our kids’ lives,” one teacher said.

But teachers who have worked in other districts say they’ve never seen the issues to the degree they see them in Berkeley. They attribute the scale of the problem not only to the student mix, but also to what they believe to be an inconsistent, unpredictable enforcement of the rules. In the past three years, one teacher reported seeing everything from a student swinging a stick at people to fist fights, and students throwing books, chairs and waste baskets around the classroom: “They’re cussing constantly. They threaten you. I never saw that kind of stuff before, not anywhere.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley schools, police, city join forces on youth crime

A tree outside the Berkeley Zen Center has become a memorial to Nancy McClellan. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley school officials, police and the city are gearing up to work more closely on juvenile crime issues, both to improve information sharing and try to get services to youth who need them.

A small group of residents — part of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee (BSNC), an umbrella organization for neighborhood watch-type activities — got an update on the fledgling effort Monday night, though it had been announced for the first time in November.

Since then, Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said he has met with the city attorney to figure out what type of information can legally be shared. Greenwood also met a couple times with Susan Craig, director of Student Services for the Berkeley Unified School District — briefly, and in the context of other discussions — to figure out some of the logistics of the endeavor. But there have not yet been any official meetings of what had been pitched as a “working group,” and Greenwood left it an open question Monday as to whether those meetings will actually take place.

Former Mayor Shirley Dean, who runs the neighborhood group, told Greenwood that BSNC believes monthly meetings will be a critical component of the working group’s success, and said BSNC will continue to include the item on its agenda, and watch closely as the effort unfolds. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeleyside blotter: Crime in Berkeley, May 14-20

Selected calls to the Berkeley Police, via CrimeMapping.com. Scroll down for detailed maps. Click the map above for the list. See the map key here.
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This overview of recent crime in Berkeley is based on reports to the Berkeley Police unless otherwise noted. Please don’t hesitate to share photos, videos or tips, about breaking news or neighborhood safety issues, via email at crime@berkeleyside.com or on Facebook or Twitter; let us know if you prefer to be anonymous. Don’t assume someone else will alert us — we value your eyes and ears, and you may be the only one to get in touch. We very much want to know about issues of neighborhood concern.

From May 14-20, there were reports of five robberies22 burglaries13 assaults or batteries, two weapon-involved calls and no sexual assaults, according to CrimeMapping.com. There were also 16 stolen vehicles10 disturbances and 45 auto break-ins or thefts from vehicles reported. There were no significant reported incidents from the University of California Police Department (UCPD). These numbers are subject to change. Click the links for the latest numbers. The following items represent a sampling of calls, and times may be approximate; incidents that took place during a range of time are listed by the beginning of that time period. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Man tried to shield fiancée during fatal Berkeley shooting

Kamahl Middleton
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Moments before being struck by a fatal shotgun blast, a Pinole man killed in Berkeley in December used his body to try to shield his fiancée from the gunman, she testified in court Wednesday.

Rebekah Cleberg of Pinole described the Dec. 29, 2014, shooting in West Berkeley as a medical marijuana exchange that quickly became an armed robbery in the parking lot by the 99 Cents store on San Pablo and University avenues.

Cleberg, 29, said she and her fiancé, 36-year-old Kamahl Middleton, drove to Berkeley from Pinole after arranging to trade about 1½ pounds of a strain of medical marijuana called “Girl Scout Cookies,” for a donation of $3,200, to a man who had provided a verified medical cannabis card and state ID card.

“We told him we were going to give him all the nicest ones,” she said. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Concord man captured, after CHP chase into Berkeley, has history of erratic driving, high-profile arrests

Police officers on Hearst Avenue get a police dog ready to search for the driver of a stolen vehicle, in Berkeley, early Monday, May 18, 2015. Police began chasing the vehicle in Concord, late Sunday, at times going the wrong way on the freeway and city streets. Photo: David Yee
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A Concord man who drove the wrong way on the freeway, and fled from authorities after causing a traffic collision in Berkeley on May 18, was arrested early Wednesday morning.

The California Highway Patrol arrested Jerome Wingert, 32, at around 3:10 a.m. at a Berkeley hotel. The arrest was made by CHP officers with assistance from Berkeley police, according to CHP spokesman Officer Clayton Nett. The exact location of the arrest was not available.

Wingert was arrested on suspicion of evading arrest in a reckless manner, auto theft and driving the wrong way on a freeway, along with a warrant for violating parole.

Wingert has been involved in at least two other high-profile pursuits with Bay Area law enforcement agencies over the past seven years, according to media reports.

The recent chase began on Sunday, May 17, in Concord when police there spotted Wingert in a stolen Honda Accord at 11:30 p.m., according to Officer Sean Wilkenfeld, a CHP spokesman. The driver evaded officers, traveling in the wrong direction on the freeway for about 30 miles, before he crashed in North Berkeley, injuring Zaya Yaro, 45, from Santa Clara, the occupant of a vehicle he caused to overturn on Hearst Avenue. … Continue reading »

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Government

The lowdown: Berkeley council on community benefits, short-term rentals, fee schedule, the budget

Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession on the economics of the city’s food and beverage sector. At its regular 7 p.m. meeting, council plans to look at the community benefits required of the developers of tall buildings downtown; the potential regulation of short-term rentals, like Airbnb units, in Berkeley; the annual fee increase for city services, and proposed creation of new fees; and more. … Continue reading »

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