Police: Feud between rival Berkeley gangs sparked April shootings, 2 men charged

Police look for evidence after gunfire erupted on near Mabel Street, in Berkeley, in November 2017 (file photo). Photo: David Yee

Investigations into back-to-back gang-related shootings on Russell and Mabel streets, on the same chilly mid-April night, led to felony charges this week against two young men with West Berkeley Waterfront gang ties, authorities report.

On April 12, shortly before 10 p.m., a man in the 2900 block of Mabel Street was injured by flying shards of glass when “numerous rounds” were fired into a home there. Less than 10 minutes earlier, an apartment complex a half-mile away at 1615 Russell St., Rosewood Manor, had been peppered with gunfire, damaging the property. Casings littered the block when police responded to investigate. The motive for both shootings, believed to have been carried out by the same group, appears to have been gang related, said Sgt. Andrew Frankel, BPD spokesman.

On the night of the shootings, “numerous suspects” pulled up in two vehicles, firing first on the Rosewood at 9:40, then at the home on Mabel, according to witnesses and surveillance video obtained by police. “All the suspects appeared to be armed with handguns,” police wrote in court documents, and all are believed to be linked to the same West Berkeley gang. According to court papers, both of the targeted locations are associated with South Berkeley gangs.

Police identified Richmond resident Grayson Gordon, 18, as one of the shooters, as well as a known member of “Babas,” a Waterfront gang “subset,” police wrote in court papers. Also arrested as part of the investigation was 20-year-old Berkeley resident Amed Arabzai in the 1300 block of 66th Street. Police said homicide detectives recovered a .40-caliber pistol with an altered serial number, about $15,000 in cash, and 30 pounds of marijuana while serving a search warrant on 66th Street last week. Investigators said they found “evidence that shows Arabzai is shipping marijuana all over the United States via USPS.”


Meanwhile, Gordon was arrested the same morning in the 600 block of Carlson Boulevard in Richmond. Police found another gun there, said Frankel. He said detectives carried out simultaneous search and arrest warrants at two Berkeley locations, along with the address in Richmond, on Thursday, May 17, at 7 a.m. Court papers list the other address in Berkeley in the 1100 block of Francisco Street. Both men were identified by police this week as “shooting suspects.”

According to court papers, surveillance footage helped police identify Gordon, who was known to authorities as a member of the Babas gang. Last year, police described Babas as the “new generation” of West Berkeley’s notorious Waterfront gang. Police began hearing about the group in 2012.

In their early days, Babas gang members were committing crimes such as prowling, trespassing and burglary, but have since moved on to more serious crimes like robbery and assaults, a now-retired BPD sergeant said last year. Attempted murder and weapons violations have also been among their alleged violations, authorities say. There may be 20 members in the gang, who now range in age from their late teens to their early 20s, according to BPD. Exact numbers have not been easy to tally.

During the warrant search at Gordon’s home on Carlson, police wrote, they found a pistol with an extended magazine in the teen’s backpack. Ballistics testing on the pistol found that it was a match to some of the casings on Russell Street, according to police.

Gordon was charged with shooting at an occupied dwelling in connection with the Russell Street incident and assault with a semiautomatic firearm — both felonies — as well as carrying a concealed firearm, which is a misdemeanor. He’s being held on $465,000 bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and is set to enter a plea Wednesday at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.

Arabzai was charged with obliterating the identification of a firearm, which is a felony, as well as misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sale. He entered not guilty pleas and was released on his own recognizance, according to court records online. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing June 5 at the same courthouse.

Frankel said he could not release photographs or surveillance video of the duo or the shootings due to the ongoing investigation.


The roots of the rivalry

Despite the Richmond address searched by police, Gordon (far right in the image below) lists Berkeley as his location on the music-hosting website SoundCloud, where he has posted dozens of rap songs under the moniker “Grayso.” Imagery and music on the page frequently reference Babas, drugs, violence and firearm use. “Love my choppa” — a term used for guns — is the most recent song posted. It was uploaded less than a month ago. Gordon wrote, on his Facebook page, that he attended Berkeley High. After publication, his mother told Berkeleyside Gordon is from Berkeley and attended Berkeley schools throughout his life.

Police have previously described a fissure between teenage South and West Berkeley gang members in 2015 that played out, in part, as disrespect online. At the time, older Waterfront gang members began to pressure its new generation to part ways with peers in South Berkeley, including members of another established gang called the 5 Finga Mafia, police have said. As friction grew, San Pablo Park, where Babas used to hang out, was claimed as turf by gang members in South Berkeley who called themselves the “L’s.” Fights broke out, at Berkeley High and in the downtown area, between the two factions in 2015 and 2016.

Gordon posted a song that evinces some of that tension and disrespect on SoundCloud last year. (It contains profanity.) For those who have followed gang-related cases in Berkeley in recent years, some of the names referenced may be familiar.

Babas also were engaged in a struggle outside the city limits in 2015. That year, some Babas burned a photograph online of a 14-year-old boy who had been shot to death in Oakland. It sparked “wildings” in downtown Berkeley involving conflict between more than 100 BUSD students and youth from Oakland. Police said previously that dueling high school football teams drove much of the mayhem. Police have said Babas were responsible both for fights downtown, and for the intimidation — including harassment, robberies and assaults — of fellow Berkeley High students.

Gunfire in 2018: A round-up

In January, there were reports of gunfire in South and West Berkeley, but no victims were reported in either case.

On Saturday, March 10, a man was shot in the hand in the 1600 block of Russell in South Berkeley. He was expected to survive, authorities said at the time. Police also found a crashed vehicle and damage to multiple cars that night.


Thursday, April 12, brought the back-to-back shootings described at the top of this story. Police have not said how many shooters may have been involved in total, but Frankel confirmed Friday that there were more than two.

On Saturday, May 12, police arrested two men and a teenager, and recovered two firearms, after gunfire startled neighbors near San Pablo Park. One of the men, 21-year-old Reginald Jackson of Berkeley, has previously been identified by police as a South Berkeley gang member.

The next day, Sunday, May 13, a 27-year-old Berkeley man was injured in a shooting in West Berkeley. Police arrested 21-year-old William Earl Robinson of Richmond in connection with that case. Police said at the time they were looking into whether there might be a connection between the South and West Berkeley incidents that weekend.

There have been no homicides in Berkeley in 2018, though a man was fatally shot just over the Berkeley border on Market Street in February. Berkeley police also responded to that neighborhood for a shooting in late April, but the Oakland Police Department handled the case and never released any information about the incident.

22-year-old man was killed just south of San Pablo Park, at Mabel and Burnett streets,  in a shooting in 2016. His family still lives in the neighborhood and has painted a memorial mural on their home in remembrance of Alex Goodwin Jr.

[Note: This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. to include several additional details related to Arabzai’s arrest.]