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The Crucible center works to repair relationship with community

By Devona Walker, Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday July 16, 2002

Berkeley promoter Eugene Cockerham Jr. is synonymous with the word swindler in the eyes of many city officials.  

Cockerham, a 31-year-old former bouncer, allegedly rented the space where gunfire broke at The Crucible arts center on Ashby Avenue July 6. 

Cockerham has not broken the law but he is believed to have misrepresented himself and breached a contract. 

“No one has made a criminal complaint against him,” said Berkeley Police Department Acting Chief Roy Meisner. 

According to The Crucible staff, Cockerham gave false identification and insurance policies when he rented the space.  

“We’ve been traumatized by them and threatened by them,” said Michael Sturtz, the executive director of The Crucible about Cockerham and the security staff he brought to The Crucible. 

The Crucible is a nonprofit that provides low-cost art classes and training to the community.  

“He told us that his event was going to be a gospel dance party and fundraiser for the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity,” Sturtz said. “We were also assured there would be no alcohol involved. And the main thing that he did that goes towards premeditation is that he said there would be no advertisement for the event. And as it turned out he had heavily fliered all the area high schools advertising a hip hop show.” 

It was estimated that at one point more than 1,300 people packed the 300-person capacity event. 

Sturtz said that Crucible staff made several attempts to stop people from entering the party after it had reached capacity, and that they tried to stop people from serving alcohol to minors, but they were threatened with physical violence by the security staff.  

In addition to the two people injured at The Crucible two weeks ago, city officials said that many of Cockerham’s past events have been plagued by violence. 

Just last May, a man was killed in Concord directly outside a Cockerham party at the Chronicle Pavilion. In the year 2000, there were two parties in Sunnyvale that ended in looting, violent clashes with the police and shootings. And back in 1996, there was another violent outbreak after a rap concert promoted by Cockerham. 

Investigators have verified that Cockerham has in the past presented property managers with false information about the events he promotes and about himself. 

City officials said Cockerham is a crook, but it wasn’t all his fault. 

“The guy was clearly a crook and the police know who he is,” said Michael Kaplan of Neighborhood Services for the city of Berkeley. “He routinely rents spaces under false circumstances. But [The Crucible] was in violation of their use permit which prohibits them from leasing a space to a third party.” 

Kaplan said the city has received many phone calls from neighbors and business owners concerned about the shooting. Yesterday, city officials talked about what to do. A follow-up meeting with Sturtz is scheduled for next week. According to Sturtz, The Crucible had not intended to rent to Cockerham. 

“It was not our intention to be renting out to a third party. It was our intention to co-sponsor an event with the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and to be doing something good for the community,” Sturtz said. 

Sturtz said he is looking to rebuild a relationship with the community and the city that has taken years to establish. 

“We want to leave this behind us, and we want to focus from here on out on what we do,” Sturtz said. “This has been a terrible tragedy from our perspective. I know there are a lot of people who are disappointed in us right now for being associated with a guy like this.” 

At present, Sturtz has no intention of pressing criminal charges against Cockerham or his security force. According to Lt. Cynthia Harris, the Berkeley Police Department was never made aware of any threats made by Cockerham.