Opinion: No crime was committed in troublesome Willard incident, police conclude

Berkeley police determined that the incident—though alarming and upsetting to those involved—lacked the criminal intent necessary to support probable cause for an arrest.

Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood responded to a letter sent to him by a group of Willard Middle School teachers and staff about a March 26 incident at the school. In the Willard letter, which was reproduced as an opinion piece on Berkeleyside, Kathryn Mapps and others recounted an incident in which a white motorist stopped outside the school when he saw a young African-American student roughhousing with a white student. The man chased the boy, who ran into the street. A car partially ran over the boy’s foot. Police came but made no arrests, prompting members of the school community to complain to Berkeley police.

Hi, Ms. Mapp,

I wanted to provide you with the background on the incident, which our officers have investigated and which was also reviewed by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you; I wanted to make sure I had correct information to relay, which took a bit more time than I had intended.

On March 26th at about 3:45 pm, officers responded to a call that an unidentified male had jumped out of a truck and was chasing a youth from the school. Within two minutes of the call, the first of the officers arrived on scene. He was guided to the reported suspect – the motorist – whom he found standing with several people on the sidewalk. The motorist was detained in handcuffs. Berkeley Police offered medical assistance to the juvenile and an ambulance was called. A guardian contacted by telephone expressed a preference for a school staff member to take the juvenile to the hospital. Officers contacted several individuals, adults, juveniles, and school staff, and began their investigation.

Based on all accounts, officers determined that the passing motorist saw what he believed to be a violent attack with a juvenile as the aggressor. The motorist said that he saw the juvenile picking a girl up and throwing her on the ground. The motorist pulled over and attempted to stop the juvenile, who fled, running into the street alongside traffic. As the motorist was grappling with the juvenile, a passing car slowed to a stop and the juvenile’s foot became partially wedged under the stopped car’s right front tire. A school staff member helped to get this second driver to reverse, releasing the juvenile’s foot. The first motorist, the juvenile and the staff member walked to the sidewalk. The driver of the second vehicle left the scene prior to the officers’ arrival. Anyone with any information that might lead to the identification of the driver in this case should contact BPD.

Through interviews with all involved parties and witnesses on-scene, officers determined that the two juveniles seen by the motorist were friends were engaged in some sort of physical “horseplay.” The juveniles said that during their interaction, one of them accidentally slipped–an action that may have made their interaction seem more dramatic to a passerby. Officers quickly cleared the juvenile of any wrongdoing.

Officers further determined that the passing motorist believed he was witnessing an assault, and that he was intervening in what he thought was a crime. Penal Code Section 837 provides that any private party may make an arrest of a person committing a public offense in their presence.

Officers determined that the incident—though alarming and upsetting to those involved—lacked the criminal intent necessary to support probable cause for an arrest.

Berkeley Police asked the Alameda District Attorney’s Office to review the case, which they did and determined that there was insufficient cause to prosecute. Berkeley Police also reached out to the family and provided them with a copy of the police report.

Please feel free to email me directly in the future, or you can call my office directly at 981-5700; I think we always gain understanding by clear, timely and direct channels of communication. We greatly value our working relationship with all of our BUSD colleagues, especially when it comes to our mutual interest in the safety of our community’s students. Replying to all in your email, I am copying Mayor Arreguín and Council, the City Manager, the District Attorney, for their information as well.

Andrew Greenwood

Chief of Police

Berkeley Police Department

Andrew Greenwood is the chief of the Berkeley police department.