2015: The year in Berkeley crime, public safety

A memorial has been growing for Christian Sheppard near the site of his fatal shooting earlier this week. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A memorial for Christian Sheppard near the site of his fatal shooting in October. Photo: Emilie Raguso

In 2015, crime looked to be on the upswing in Berkeley compared to the prior year’s significant reductions. If you missed any of Berkeleyside’s most-read and notable crime stories, we sum them up for you here.

A series of attempted child abductions had the community on alert in the fall. No arrests have been made, but authorities did bring in a license plate reader to try to help in the investigation.

Many local residents mourned the death of 24-year-old Christian Sheppard, who was fatally shot in South Berkeley in October. It was the year’s only homicide, but there were several other deaths investigated by police. In December, 22-year-old Jeffrey Engler, a former UC Berkeley student, was found dead in a Cal fraternity house. Alcohol and a fall from what authorities described as a significant height appear to have contributed to his death. The body of a Berkeley woman was found floating near a Richmond park, and authorities described her death as suspicious. And a former Berkeley High School student was fatally shot in Oakland while painting a community mural.

Read more Berkeleyside crime coverage.


There were about a dozen shootings in Berkeley in 2015, though not all of them resulted in injuries. See a map and list of most of the incidents. In November, a teenager was seriously injured during a beating, and police made a number of arrests, but charges have not been filed.

Firefighters climbed onto the roof to fight a two-alarm fire on Dwight Way, near Telegraph Avenue, on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. Photo: David Yee
Firefighters climbed onto the roof to fight a two-alarm fire on Dwight Way, near Telegraph Avenue, on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. Photo: David Yee

Also in November, there were three significant fires in Berkeley. Two of them took place on the same night, rendering a Telegraph Avenue apartment building uninhabitable, and causing damage at a West Berkeley warehouse used by a number of craftspeople. The other destroyed a popular Chinese restaurant downtown. The cause of that blaze remains under investigation. In late December, a fire took the life of a longtime South Berkeley resident on Acton Street.

Home burglaries spiked in the early part of the year, and one local resident who surprised intruders in her home offered safety tips to the community. We continued to do our popular weekly crime blotter to keep an eye on the trends. Berkeley’s police chief said Tasers would likely benefit officers and the community, but city officials have not directly taken up the issue.

Two incidents involving large crowds — in the Southside neighborhood on Halloween, and a number of fights downtown involving hundreds of youth in April — were of significant interest to readers. The possibility of fights continued to be a problem later in the month, leading to three arrests and the recovery of a replica gun near BHS. The annual bullying report came out in December. Teachers at Berkeley’s alternative high school 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.

Read more about school safety.

Notable court cases included a man reported to have groped children in a UC Berkeley pool, a sex trafficking case involving a Berkeley High School student, a man police say stole a dog from the animal shelter before carjacking a West Berkeley motorist, and an Uber driver alleged to have committed identity theft after stealing the wallet of a sleeping passenger.

Kamahl Middleton
Photo: Kamahl Middleton

Three young men were ordered to stand trial for the fatal shooting of a Pinole man during a medical marijuana exchange in late 2014. Moments before being struck by a fatal shotgun blast, Kamahl Middleton used his body to try to shield his fiancée from the gunman, she testified in court.

Daniel DeWitt, the mentally ill man who bludgeoned Peter Cukor to death in his Berkeley Hills home in 2012, was committed to 33 years to life at the Napa State Hospital.

In January, a man was sentenced to 15 years after a double stabbing and arson that killed a puppy. A man charged with preying on the elderly during a number of robberies and assaults was sentenced to 21 years in prison. A Berkeley man was charged in an Oakland murder case. And a Lafayette man police say strangled a woman and hit her with a hammer, then tried to force her into prostitution, was charged with human trafficking after he was stopped by a Berkeley police officer in late June.

After more than two decades, police said they had charged the man they believe strangled and sexually assaulted two women: a young mother whose body was found in Tilden Park in 1987, and a Laotian immigrant in her 50s whose body was discovered in her boyfriend’s backyard in 1993. A 37-year-old Concord man was set to face charges after a 2012 robbery series in Berkeley that targeted the Magic Fingers massage parlor, which has since closed.

There were several high-profile sexual assaults as well: a rape reported at People’s Park, a case involving two fraternity brothers that is still working its way through the court system, and the daytime robbery and sexual assault of a UC Berkeley student in late November.

Henry's hostage crisis: troops move in. Photo: David Yee
Henry’s hostage crisis: Troops move in. Photo: David Yee

2015 was also the 25th anniversary of the Henry’s hostage crisis, where seven people were injured and dozens held hostage after a crazed gunman took over a Southside Berkeley pub full of Cal students. The more than seven-hour standoff involved a schizophrenic man who heard voices and ordered bizarre sexual assaults of his female hostages before being shot by police 24 times as he lunged, armed with a gun, toward a group of hostages when police moved in to detain him.

Other stories that drew a lot of attention: a police hunt for an armed robber who first assaulted a woman at a laundromat; neighborhood efforts to catch four teen girls who robbed another girl in The Elmwood; a CHP chase involving a wrong-way driver on the freeway that ended in a crash in Berkeley; and a group of seven thieves who struck the Berkeley Apple store in early December. Robberies are the most common violent crime to impact the Berkeley community.

Police officers arrested a man found in a stolen truck at the Berkeley marina who authorities say tried to kill his 86-year-old mother in Stockton in a brutal assault.

The Police Department grappled with high numbers of calls involving people battling mental illness. Nationally, 10% of police calls are for people having a mental health crisis. In Berkeley, that number is 35% or more. Over the past five years, police have seen a 43% increase in calls for “5150s,” or people who are believed to be a danger to themselves or others, police said in April.

Police have also been battling allegations by some community members who say data from car and pedestrian stops in Berkeley show racial bias. The department has been making information about these stops more readily available to the public and plans to have the stop data analyzed by experts for a better understanding of what it shows.

Other public safety news: There were also some large power outages, in January and June; the latter was caused by a squirrel in an El Cerrito substation. A magnitude-4.0 earthquake centered in Piedmont was among the largest of the year.

 “Some people said I would never see it again," said Nellie Hill of Berkeley, seen here with her recovered oil painting, which had been stolen in January. Photo: Stolen 911
“Some people said I would never see it again,” said Nellie Hill of Berkeley, seen here with her recovered oil painting, which had been stolen in January. Photo: Stolen 911

On the lighter side, a man got back his stolen bike after a vigilant neighbor saw it being ridden around town, and a woman was able to recover a treasured family painting with the help of website Stolen 911. A Berkeley man forced a United Airlines flight from Rome to divert to Ireland after he grew aggressive en route, according to the airline, over nuts and crackers.

The year ended on a high note when the community came together to help out with the Berkeley Police Department’s Toys for Tots toy drive after donations fell short.

Read more Berkeleyside crime and public safety coverageHave a question about a local public safety incident? Write to crime@berkeleyside.com. Photographs and videos are always appreciated.

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