Category Archives: Crime


Convicted killer sentenced to 118 years to life

Yellow tags marked the location of evidence at the 2010 shooting scene. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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More than eight months after his conviction in the murder of Gary Ferguson Jr. and the attempted murder of Larry Belle on Sacramento Street in Berkeley in 2010, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson denied a defense motion for a new trial and sentenced Brandon Wallace, 27, to 118 years to life in prison.

Thursday, Rolefson heard arguments from defense attorney Bonnie Narby and prosecutor Matt Wendt about whether a statement from codefendant Coleon Carroll presented significant enough evidence to trigger a new trial. Carroll took a plea deal in the case and said he was the getaway driver after the shooting.

Rolefson heard Carroll’s testimony and that of several others, but ultimately denied the defense motion and said he did not believe Carroll was credible. Carroll said his deceased cousin Jermaine Davis was actually responsible for the crime of which Wallace had been convicted.

Wallace was convicted in March of being one of two assailants in the 2010 double shooting. Police found him in the hospital, with a gunshot wound to the thigh, shortly after they were called to the Sacramento Street crime scene. Detectives said Wallace’s description, injury and clothing tied him to the Berkeley shooting. The other gunman has not been arrested or publicly identified. … Continue reading »

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UC Berkeley student fights off sexual predator

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A female UC Berkeley student managed to fend off a stranger who tried to rape her as she walked home from the downtown Berkeley BART station, authorities report.

The student is being treated for injuries at a local hospital following the sexual battery, the University of California Police Department reported Saturday.

The sexual battery took place Sunday, Nov. 27, at about 10:30 p.m. UCPD said the exact location has not been determined.

“The victim fought back and managed to get away from the suspect,” UCPD reported. The agency described the incident as sexual assault with the intent to rape.

The assailant was described as a white man in his mid-30s, 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, with a muscular build, short light brown hair, and “short stubble” facial hair. He was wearing a black baseball cap with a flat bill and “SF” in white stitching, a white T-shirt under a black-and-red-colored flannel shirt, dark jeans and dark shoes.

UCPD was advised about the attack Friday, Dec. 2, by a campus security authority — individuals who are federally mandated to report certain types of crimes they witness or are told about.
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Berkeley native Cierra Ford fatally shot in Georgia

Ford at her graduation from Contra Costa College
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A young man from Berkeley is trying to raise money to bring home his little sister’s body for burial after she was killed Friday in Georgia where she was attending college.

The day after Thanksgiving, around 3 a.m., 25-year-old Cierra Ford was fatally shot in her home in Sandy Springs, a suburb north of Atlanta, according to news reports. A 21-year-old man with her in the home also was shot and was reported to be in critical but stable condition at the hospital. Police said robbery may have been the motive. No arrests have been made. 

Ford graduated from Berkeley High in 2009, then went on to get her associate’s degree from Contra Costa Community College.

Her brother Clarence — a master’s student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy — wrote that his sister “excelled academically earning A’s and B’s which allowed her to apply and receive multiple scholarships” while attending community college.

She later transferred to Clark Atlanta University, a historically black university in Atlanta, where she was majoring in communications. … Continue reading »

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2 juveniles tied to North Berkeley vandalism spree

2 juveniles were arrested early on Wednesday morning for vandalizing windows on Solano Avenue. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Nearly 30 businesses on the north side of Solano Avenue were vandalized early Wednesday morning by two youths who scratched “Felipe” and some obscene words on their windows, authorities report.

According to Berkeley police, a witness phoned at 2:16 a.m. Wednesday to say they saw two males vandalizing windows on Solano near Ensenada Avenue.

Police chased the youths on foot for four blocks and apprehended one of them. The other was arrested at 4:35 a.m.

Both are juveniles, one from Albany and the other from El Cerrito. … Continue reading »

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4 arrested after Berkeley robbery near campus

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Berkeley police arrested three men and a woman after a robbery at a Southside Berkeley market Monday evening.

Police got a report at about 6:45 p.m. about a robbery at the shop, in the 2200 block of Durant Avenue, not far from the UC Berkeley campus.

According to Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel, several people went into a shop and stole numerous items.

“When they were confronted by the employee, one of the male suspects threw a can of Red Bull at her,” Frankel said.  … Continue reading »

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After DUI hit-and-run, threats, man set to enter plea

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A man described by police as a DUI driver with a suspended license who crashed into another vehicle in Berkeley and threatened to kill a witness is set to enter a plea next week in Alameda County Superior Court, according to court papers.

The crash took place in August, and Jose Paz-Leja, 25, was charged at that time with multiple felonies. He is set to enter a plea in the case Nov. 30, and has been released on $190,000 bail.

According to court papers, a Berkeley police officer was dispatched to a hit-and-run crash Aug. 13 at Bancroft Way and Acton Street. Dispatchers said the driver of a blue Ford pick-up truck had fled the scene, and run south on Edwards Street.

“A witness to the collision attempted to detain Paz-Leja, who threatened to kill the witness if he was followed. One of the involved parties had a laceration to her hand and complained of severe chest pain as a result of being struck by an airbag,” according to court papers.

Police said the truck smelled of marijuana and alcohol, and were able to use its registration and other information related to the investigation to identify the driver as Paz-Leja. The truck was registered to his Berkeley address on Alcatraz Avenue. … Continue reading »

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Man caught with stolen goods after Berkeley burglary

Berkeley police cruiser (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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An alert neighbor pointed police to a man seen walking out of a South Berkeley home with what appeared to be stolen goods Saturday, which ultimately led, after further investigation, to his arrest, according to authorities.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said an officer was responding to a “cold” burglary report at about 5:40 p.m. in the 2400 block of Curtis Street. The officer was told the burglary had happened earlier.

When he walked out of the home, not far from Channing Way, a community member flagged him down and told him he or she had just seen a man around the corner who had earlier come out of the burgled home with what appeared to be stolen property.

The officer stopped the man — 26-year-old Joseph Ford — and found him with stolen bicycles, tools and luggage tied to the Curtis Street case and another location, Frankel said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley robbery foiled with help from citizens

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Two Oakland men who robbed a woman of her laptop Saturday at a Berkeley Starbucks were caught with the help of alert citizens, police report.

Saturday afternoon, at about 4:20 p.m., the Berkeley Police Department got several calls from witnesses “who saw a female patron struggling over her laptop” with a man inside the Starbucks at 3000 Telegraph Avenue, according to a statement released by police Monday.

“The two struggled and the suspect was able to pull the laptop from the victim’s hands,” police said. But a community member blocked the door so the man couldn’t leave.

When the robber brandished a pistol, however, the community member allowed him to exit. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Apple store hit again by group of thieves; customers and staff express concern

The Berkeley Apple store. Photo: TJ Gehling
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For the third time in nine days, thieves ran into the Berkeley Apple store on Fourth Street and made off with stolen electronics, authorities report.

Several local residents — including one woman who was inside the store when it was hit — got in touch with Berkeleyside this week to report the latest incident, which happened Wednesday at about 11 a.m.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said four to six people in their late teens or early 20s ran into the shop at 1823 Fourth St., grabbed what they could and ran out. According to community reports, they “snatched up” all the electronics on nearly a dozen tables in the store.

One local resident told Berkeleyside on Thursday, “My wife and I were just at the Apple Store and noticed the first two rows of tables were clear. An employee said they had been robbed again yesterday.”

Technically speaking, the recent Apple store incidents are considered grand theft, not robbery, which involves force or fear. But there has been significant concern at the shop and in the surrounding neighborhood due to the recent incidents.

In a report on community social network Nextdoor, another local resident said she had spoken with a Berkeley Apple store employee about the recent crimes who told her he is afraid for his safety but that employees have been instructed by Apple not to talk about it. He told her there had been six thefts at the shop within the past few months, including the three in the past week or so. … Continue reading »

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Teens with gun arrested after Berkeley robbery attempt

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Berkeley police arrested three young men with a gun after an attempted robbery Monday night near the UC Berkeley campus.

The incident happened shortly before 10:30 p.m. near Piedmont Avenue and Dwight Way.

According to a statement released by police this week, “The victim saw a car park just ahead of him” and became “suspicious when two men exited the car just as he passed it.”

He later told authorities he knew about a recent robbery spree near campus and “his suspicions continued to grow when he noticed that the two suspects were following him. The victim ran and the suspects followed with the suspect car paralleling them on the street.”

The victim called police and the men got back into their vehicle and drove off. An officer nearby, at University Avenue and Walnut Street, spotted a vehicle that matched the description broadcast over the radio. … Continue reading »

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Breaking: 2 injured in shooting at Berkeley park

Police are on the scene after a shooting at the Strawberry Creek Park basketball courts. Photo: Citizen reporter
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Update, 4:56 p.m. BPD clarified that one of the victims turned up at the North Berkeley BART station and was then taken to the hospital. None of the injuries appeared, according to the preliminary investigation, to be life-threatening. No arrests have been made.

Original story, 3:24 p.m. Two people have been injured in a shooting at Strawberry Creek Park in Berkeley, authorities report.

According to a witness at the scene, the gunfire took place at about 3:10 p.m. at the park’s basketball courts.

He said 15-20 high-school-aged kids got into a fight. Three gunshots were fired and everyone scattered.

“Someone screamed that they were hit, but no one is left on the scene,” he said. Berkeleyside is not releasing his name due to safety concerns. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High grad remembered at vigil; mother, former BUSD teacher, was also killed

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A recent Berkeley High graduate who was killed last week in Oakland along with his mothers was remembered Monday during a vigil on campus.

About 100 people came together to remember Benny Wright, 19, who graduated from the BHS Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) learning community in June. Benny’s mother, former BUSD teacher Patricia Wright, and her partner, Charlotte Reed, were also killed.

Monday, vigil organizers passed out candles and invited attendees to share their memories and thoughts about Benny Wright.

“Benny’s brother (home from school in Mississippi) spoke first for nearly 15 minutes about Benny’s spirit of love and joy and about how he had already forgiven the assailant,” said teacher John Tobias, who helps run AMPS, along with Claudia Gonzalez.

Tobias said Benny, according to his brother, had been deciding whether to become a hairdresser or a nurse.

“He always wanted to make people feel better. Other students and teachers spoke about Benny’s unwavering smile being able to light up a room,” Tobias said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley police arrest 2 in stolen car with guns, drugs

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Police officers arrested an El Sobrante man and a Kensington woman Monday night in the Berkeley Marina after being alerted to the stolen BMW the pair happened to be sitting in, authorities report.

Police found guns and drugs in the car, and arrested the pair in connection with them, along with other alleged violations.

Monday at 10:20 p.m., Berkeley police dispatchers learned of the stolen BMW, which appeared to be parked in a lot at the marina, according to a brief statement from police Tuesday afternoon.

Two officers found the BMW in the O Dock parking lot at the marina, and saw two people sitting inside.

Police detained them and found them to be on felony probation for identity theft. Due to their probation status, police were able to search them, according to the BPD statement.

During the search, police found two handguns, 1.25 grams of suspected methamphetamine, meth smoking paraphernalia, credit cards, checks, consumer profiles, and mail belonging to several victims, according to BPD.

Police identified the vehicle occupants as 25-year-old Travis Penaluna of El Sobrante and 32-year-old Christina Taylor of Kensington. … Continue reading »

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