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Berkeley Killing: Police Address Questions, Suspect is Grandson of Former Councilman from Alameda

Berkeley police said a protest prevented them from responding to an initial, non-emergency call for help from the man who was fatally attacked minutes later by an intruder. The suspect is the grandson of a former Alameda city councilman.

Following questions raised about the police response in the Saturday night slaying of Berkeley hills man by a trespasser, Berkeley police today, Monday, said they were unable to comply with the resident's initial, non-emergency request for help because available officers were needed to monitor a protest march.

Also today, Alameda Patch reported that the suspect arrested in the case, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23, of Alameda, is the grandson of the late Al DeWitt, an Alameda civic leader and former city councilman who also served as vice mayor and acting mayor.

The Berkeley resident who was killed had called police to report a "strange person on his property" and asked for an officer to respond, police said. After the call, the man was fatally attacked by the intruder outside his home on Park Gate Road between Tilden Park and the intersection of Shasta Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley hills, according to police.

Police did respond immediately to a second, "attack in progress" call from the home and arrested Dewitt less than a block away, police said.

After the initial police reports of the crime, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted unidentified sources about the earlier call and what happened immediately afterward:

"The victim had called police on a nonemergency line after first seeing Dewitt, according to sources familiar with the case," the paper said. "But police were busy monitoring an Occupy Oakland march to UC Berkeley, and officers were dispatched only to high-priority calls."

The newspaper also quoted sources saying "an officer who noticed the call about Dewitt on his computer told a dispatcher he would respond, but was told not to go."

The Berkeley police statement today, from Lt. Andrew Greenwood, said:

"BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller calmly reported an encounter with a strange person on his property, and asked for an officer to respond. This call for service was queued for dispatch.

"At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service.

"BPD subsequently received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Rd. Officers were immediately dispatched to that call."

In providing the additional information, Greenwood noted that coverage of the killing had "generated a number of questions."

Police have not released the name of the victim. The Chronicle said public records and neighbors indicated that the owner of the home was Peter Cukor, 67, who owned a logistics consulting firm.

A police news release Sunday about the crime noted the earlier call from the home reporting "a suspicious person/trespassing suspect near the garage." It said a man and a wife spotted the intruder on returning home.

Al DeWitt, who died of stomach cancer in 2003, was the first African-American to serve on Alameda's City Council, according to Alameda Patch. He served nine years on the city council, including his roles as councilman, vice mayor and acting mayor.

Daniel Dewitt's mother, Candy Dewitt, told the Chronicle that her son had a history of mental illness

Daniel Dewitt, a 2007 Alameda High School graduate who played football at the school, is pictured here on his MaxPreps profile page. His name appears on this list of 2007 Alameda High graduates.

He is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

Kathy A. February 21, 2012 at 06:44 AM
Thank you for linking the Alameda Patch story. It is clear from the comments there that this was a tragedy all around -- certainly for the victim and his family, but also because a young man people remember as gentle and kind was so mentally ill, and adequate treatment was not available.
K Roe February 21, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I agree with Kathy A; this is a tragedy all the way 'round. I volunteered 6 years with the homeless in Austin, Tx. (I was their barber, although I had no training.) 9 out of 10 of the men & women I talked with as I cut their hair, needed help from the outside. Either they had been dumped into the streets from mental institutions (Texas prefers to spend $ on locking up or executing) or they were addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and couldn't afford residential treatment (Even the more liberal Austin doesn't support residential treatment programs for the impoverished).
Kitty Jones February 21, 2012 at 07:19 PM
K. Jones Is there any good reason why so many police were needed to "monitor" the protest? Do I have the wrong impression that the violence happens when the police show up?
John Stashik February 21, 2012 at 08:21 PM
The mobs have been known to destroy property, set fires, and otherwise create danger for the public. Not to mention recent riots in Oakland. Police are needed to protect people and keep peace. That is what they do. If cops are occupied with Occupy, they cannot be elsewhere at the same time. It is that simple.
Kathy A. February 21, 2012 at 10:42 PM
It is fair to look back and see if things might have been done differently in terms of deploying public safety resources. Also fair to wonder why a faction of the Oakland Occupy movement thinks it makes some kind of political sense to bust up people's property or behave aggressively -- I have sympathy with the 99% (of which I am a part), but these are not productive or persuasive or tolerable methods to address injustices. I'd rather not lose track of the horrible outcome when this young man ended up without appropriate mental health services. We collectively have a huge problem when the criminal justice system is the only place to deal with someone who is seriously mentally ill.
K Roe February 22, 2012 at 01:34 AM
As a wife and as the mother of sons, I can't imagine how sad each family must feel. I'm reminded of a lecture I happened upon in 1999. The mother of Larry Keith Robison spoke about her mentally ill son who was on death row. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia since adolescence, in 1982 Larry brutally murdered 5 people. He'd never done anything violent before this. For years, his mother Lois tried to get institutional care for him-- she couldn't afford private housing/supervision (who among us can?). Again & again the State of Texas rebuffed her since Larry hadn't done anything violent. He was executed in 2000. Many more mentally ill have been executed since; others await execution. Did you know it's more expensive to keep a person, mentally ill or not, on death row than it is to provide help before the crime? Did you know that according to some statistics we spend 10-15x more $ to incarcerate rather than educate? Irrespective of the exact nature of disparity, how wonderful our schools would be if we had simply l/2 the prisons' budget. As for people with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, does what it can to help them & their families http://www.nami.org/ . But the growing number of mentally ill is humongous compared to the tiny number that NAMI & others can reach. May we consider how to help people like Daniel DeWitt. (May we also consider the wisdom of our gun laws) My deepest sympathy to both families.
John Stashik February 22, 2012 at 02:03 AM
It is a shame an innocent man loses his life merely by confronting a trespasser on his property. Who knows what brought the suspected perp from Alameda to the victim's home in the first place? Maybe we'll never find out. It makes one think about protection. Had the victim been armed and proficient with a weapon he'd be alive today. It's dangerous on the streets today as reported right here on this Patch. Chances are the victim of the home invasion robbery a week ago is rethinking security now. Do what you can to stay alive.
Charles Burress (Editor) February 22, 2012 at 08:40 AM
Late today Berkeley police provided further details on on the timeline: "At approximately 8:45 PM, BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller reported an encounter with an unknown person “hanging around” his property, and asked that an officer be sent to investigate. This call for service was queued for dispatch. "At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest march which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. Concerns about the potential for violence associated with the march resulted in plans to allocate officers to monitor the march. "At approximately 9:00 PM, an officer, seeing several pending calls for service, including two “suspicious circumstances”, offered to respond to either of the calls. The officer’s offer was declined, as only in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched. "Two minutes later, at approximately 9:02 PM, BPD received a phone call reporting an attack in progress. The previous call information was updated and officers were dispatched within one minute. Officers were cleared to proceed using their emergency lights and sirens to the Park Gate location. "The first officer broadcast arrival on scene in the northeastern hill neighborhood within five minutes of being dispatched."

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