Released from jail and with no charges pending against him, the 56-year-old Oakland man accused in the 1970 shooting death of a Berkeley police officer continued to insist on his innocence in a telephone interview with the Daily Planet and protested his treatment at the hands of Berkeley police.
Berkeley Police officer Ron Tsukamoto was shot and killed on University Avenue by a single gunman in the early morning hours in August 1970. A witness to the shooting provided police with details that led to the creation of an artist’s sketch of the alleged killer. The witness died several years later in an auto accident.
Last week, retired Oakland educator Styles Price was arrested by Berkeley police for Tsukamoto’s murder. A second man, 56-year-old Don Graphenreed, was also arrested and accused of driving the getaway car.
Berkeley police say they believe a third man, Price’s brother Philip, acted as the lookout in the murder. Philip Price currently owns a home and operates a business in Mexico, where he has been living for more than a year.
The Alameda County district attorney’s office declined to bring charges against Price and Graphenreed, but Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Morris Jacobson said the decision “wasn’t the fault of Berkeley police.”
While he declined to go into the specifics, the prosecutor praised Berkeley detectives for their efforts.
“The Berkeley Police Department has done an excellent job of investigation,” Jacobson said. “One of the key problems with resolving the 35-year-old murder case is that both bystander eyewitnesses to the crime died, one in an automobile crash and the other of natural causes. Even if one of the three alleged participants in the crime agreed to testify against the others, it wouldn’t be enough to earn a conviction without additional physical or other evidence that would substantiate the account.”
But Price said flatly, “I did not do it,” adding that he could not say anything more about the case on advice of his lawyer, Oakland attorney William DuBois.
But Price was willing to give details of his year-long contact with Berkeley police in the Tsukamoto case.
Price said that Lt. Russell Lopes—the Berkeley investigator brought out of retirement to reopen the Tsukamoto murder investigation—came to his house in the Mills College area of Oakland in May of 2004 to get DNA samples. That was shortly after Berkeley police first arrested Graphenreed in connection with the murder. Graphenreed was released two days later, after the Alameda County District Attorney’s office declined to press charges.
“Lopes didn’t interview me at that time, and he said that I was not under suspicion,” Price said. “He brought a small army of police officers with him, and I didn’t want to let him in my house, so we went out in the backyard and he took six DNA samples. I told him he was barking up the wrong tree, and that I didn’t want my DNA to be in the system. But he said that if it didn’t match, the police would destroy the samples. I didn’t do it, and I thought the DNA would be proof positive.”
Price said he did not hear anything more about the matter until late April of this year, when Lopes returned with a search warrant for photos and memorabilia.
Price said police took approximately nine photograph albums from his house, including “seven that were solely related to my wife’s family prior to the time we met.”
Price said police also seized an “intimate videotape” of him and his wife. In addition, Price said that Berkeley police took at least two contemporary pictures of him.
Price expressed puzzlement at one action of the police during the April search, in light of the fact that Lopes later had a computer age-progression done which attempted to show that the police ID sketch done in 1970 would have eventually aged to resemble Price as he now appears.
“While the police were in my house, they walked back and forth several times in front of a picture on the wall of me in 1970,” he said. “If they wanted to compare that to the composite sketch from 1970, all they had to do was take it.”
Price said he retained DuBois as his attorney following the April search.
Around the same time as the search of Price’s house, Berkeley police also searched the North Oakland home of Price’s brother Marty, also a retired Oakland educator. Marty Price said that police broke down his door and broke several windows while he was away from home, causing $2,000 in damage. Marty Price is not considered a suspect in the Tsukamoto killing.
Price, who suffers from high blood pressure and a degenerative spinal condition, both of which require prescription medication, said that if Berkeley police had asked him to surrender himself he would have voluntarily come into the station with his attorney. Instead, he said that he was not contacted again by Berkeley police until last week, when he said that four officers jumped out of their cars and arrested him while he was taking out the garbage.
“I was in my slippers and sweats and a T-shirt and they just swooped down and grabbed me,” he said. “I started screaming ‘Help! Help!’ Everybody in the neighborhood said they heard it, including my wife.”
Price said he was taken to the Berkeley police station and kept in a cell for five hours until he was brought, manacled and shackled, into an interview room with Lt. Lopes.
“That took about a half a second,” he said. “He asked me if I knew why I was there, and I told him that I was being falsely charged with a murder. He asked me if I was prepared to make a statement at that time, or if I wanted to wait until my lawyer was present. I chose to wait. That was it.”
Both Price and Graphenreed were scheduled for arraignment last Friday afternoon in Oakland, but court officials told family members gathered for the hearing that charges were not being brought against either man. Both men were later released. Berkeley police officials say they still consider the two men to be the prime suspects in the murder, and plan to continue the investigation.