Berkeley neighbors help catch 4 teens in dramatic effort after strong-arm robbery

The robbery took place near the intersection of Brookside and Claremont avenues. Photo: Google Maps
The robbery took place near the intersection of Brookside and Claremont avenues. Photo: Google Maps

Alert residents worked together Sunday afternoon to help catch four Oakland teens police say robbed an 18-year-old woman on Brookside Avenue in Berkeley’s Claremont neighborhood.

The dramatic incident occurred May 3 at around 12:30 p.m. and resulted in the arrest of four girls: three 16-year-olds and one 14-year-old, according to the Berkeley Police Department.

It began when a driver on Brookside witnessed a young woman being accosted by two teens on the corner of Brookside and Claremont avenues.

The 18-year-old was approached from behind by two people who grabbed her phone and started to open her backpack, said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. The woman struggled over the phone with one of the robbers, then another of them struck her, Coats said. During the struggle, one of the teens grabbed a necklace from the woman, and another took her wallet from her backpack. The group fled to a waiting vehicle. 


Photo taken just before four teenagers got out of white van while trying to escape after robbery on Brookside Avenue. Photo: Citizen reporter
Photo taken just before four teenagers got out of white van while trying to escape after robbery on Brookside Avenue. Photo: Citizen reporter

One local woman wrote an account of the incident for a neighborhood email list and shared it with Berkeleyside: “The two suspects then jumped into a van as it headed down Brookside,” which dead-ends east of Claremont. “Another woman in a minivan who happened to be driving by and witnessed the scene, pulled onto the street. [The original witness] told her to stop in the middle of the street to block the exit. Thus, the van was now trapped at the end of the street.”

(Berkeleyside has omitted the names of the neighbors involved at their request.)

The woman who wrote the account said she called 911 “after hearing the poor … girl screaming outside.”

She said the people in the van were then idling in a neighbor’s driveway, “I guess trying to figure out what to do about their predicament.”

The neighbor’s account continues: “I was communicating with the 911 operator pleading her to get the police here now. The van then started barreling up the street. I thought it would run crashing into this woman’s minivan (she had two children in [the] back seat). Meanwhile the 911 operator is asking me if they have weapons. I got a little nervous and said I have no idea but they are heading up our street now and we are all standing there, so I hope not!”

The van with the teens inside stopped in front of the minivan, and four girls jumped out of the car, according to the email account. They did not appear to have weapons.

“I was still on the phone with 911, still waiting for the police as they walked/bolted past the five or six of us surrounding the street,” wrote the neighbor. “None of us stopped them… I told the police which direction the girls fled… They had dropped the … girl’s wallet and two nice men returned it to her while we were comforting her in front of our home. She was rather traumatized by the experience, needless to say.”


Once police arrived, the neighbor who had originally spotted the crime was taken out in a patrol car with tinted windows to try to identify the suspects. Other officers questioned witnesses.

The teens were apprehended nearby, at Claremont and Woolsey Street, said Coats, and arrested on suspicion of robbery. Their names will not be released due to privacy laws protecting minors. The woman suffered minor injuries and declined medical attention, and her property was recovered and returned.

Brookside Avenue. Photo: Google StreetView
Brookside Avenue. Photo: Google StreetView

According to the neighborhood email list account, the woman’s sister came to pick her up, and the minivan was eventually towed away.

The woman writing about the event said she had been shocked that such an incident could happen in the afternoon in broad daylight. “It was an incredibly brazen act — in the middle of a busy Sunday afternoon on a main street corner. Just crazy,” she wrote.

The Claremont/Elmwood neighborhood was in fact unusually busy Sunday, as the annual Spring Tour of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association kicked off shortly after the robbery at 1 p.m. at John Muir Elementary School, just up Claremont from Brookside. For more than four hours, the surrounding Elmwood Park neighborhood was teeming with hundreds of participants, walking the local streets and visiting the 11 open homes on the tour.

The local resident who shared her account on the email list and then with Berkeleyside concluded: “Be watchful of your surroundings. Be thankful for our wonderful neighborhood.”


Read more about robberies in Berkeley.

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