Another defendant charged after (yet another) Berkeley laptop grab series

Cafe Réveille in Berkeley. Image: Google Street View

A San Pablo man police have linked to a group that’s repeatedly stolen laptops from people in Berkeley has been charged with grand theft in connection with a case dating back to January, authorities report.

The Alameda County district attorney’s office charged 18-year-old Frank Sheckles last week after police in Berkeley recognized him and stopped him because they knew he had a warrant, said Berkeley Police Lt. Dan Montgomery. Sheckles joins three other people — 23-year-old Ronald Steven Swanson III of Richmond, 19-year-old Imara Jobali Hutton Jr. of El Sobrante and a 17-year-old from Richmond — charged previously in what BPD believes is a series of four laptop grabs from customers at Berkeley cafés and people on the street in late January.

“These things do take time to get enough pieces of the puzzle put together,” Montgomery said this week. “The detectives pursue these cases, and pursue the leads, until they are done. We don’t give up just because we didn’t catch them on patrol that night.”

After stopping Swanson, Hutton and the Richmond teen at the end of January, police said, robbery detectives linked Sheckles to two laptop grabs from Berkeley cafés Jan. 23. That day at 1:40 p.m., a customer was working in the outdoor patio of Café Reveille, at 760 Hearst Ave. (at Fifth Street), when a stranger snatched his or her laptop. Three hours later, a thief took a laptop from a customer inside of Starbucks at 2128 Oxford St. (at Center Street). After both thefts, the culprit fled in a black Ford Mustang convertible driven by an accomplice, according to police.

Both incidents were captured on surveillance video, police wrote.

BPD identified Sheckles as the suspect in the Jan. 23 laptop thefts and obtained a warrant for his arrest, according to court papers. After officers arrested him at Adeline and Harmon streets April 27, police wrote, he ultimately admitted he had taken the laptops from both coffee shop customers.

The officers who made the April 27 arrest were on a “high-visibility” patrol for BPD, Montgomery noted. These extra patrol teams, which are not tied to handling calls for service, are part of a department project to tackle particular crime problems that come up.

The Mustang convertible was one common thread among all four cases, Montgomery said. In addition to the Jan. 23 incidents, police also investigated a backpack theft Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. from outside Zazzi Foods at 1398 University Ave. The plate on the getaway car in that case led back to a Ford Mustang. And, when BPD arrested Swanson, Hutton and the Richmond teenager in late January, they were in that vehicle, according to police.

The trio’s arrest Jan. 29 came shortly after a man waiting at a bus stop at Shattuck Avenue and Woolsey Street had his backpack taken just before 5:30 p.m. The man had put his backpack — which held his laptop — on the ground beside him. BPD said a stranger ran up and grabbed the bag, then ran to a black Ford Mustang convertible. 

Albany police spotted that vehicle at Marin and Santa Fe avenues and stopped it, police reported previously. Investigators arrested all three vehicle occupants on suspicion of grand theft, possession of stolen property and conspiracy. Police said they found the man’s stolen laptop in the Mustang.

In February, BPD said it could not share booking photos of the two men arrested Jan. 29 because there was still investigative work underway. Photos of the three adult defendants in the associated thefts were made available this week. 

From left: Sheckles, Swanson and Hutton. Photos: BPD

The DA’s office charged Hutton with three counts of grand theft — two from Jan. 23 and one from Jan. 29 — and charged Swanson with one count of grand theft, from Jan. 29, according to court records. The Richmond teen was charged with possession of stolen property, BPD said.

Hutton and Swanson are both scheduled for a pretrial hearing March 29. They are no longer in custody.

According to charging documents, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Sheckles on May 1 with just one count of grand theft. That was in connection with the incident at Café Reveille, BPD said.

Sheckles is no longer in custody and is set for an attorney and plea hearing Wednesday.

Emilie Raguso is senior reporter at Berkeleyside. Email: Phone: 510-459-8325.