Panhandler Threatens Student with Knife in Downtown Fracas

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday May 10, 2008 - 08:32:00 PM

Berkeley police arrested an Oakland resident Thursday, charging that he punched a Berkeley High sophomore in the chest, pulled out a knife and chased a group of students through downtown Berkeley to the gates of the school. 

Three Berkeley High sophomores were buying lunch at E-Z Stop Deli at 2233 Shattuck Ave. around noon when they noticed a man identified as Jacoby Daniel Kirby, 28, sitting on the sidewalk asking for spare change, Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Mary Kusmiss told the Planet Friday. 

She said that Kirby told the three students he would tell them a joke for money, and that one of the 10th-graders gave Kirby a quarter, after which Kirby told a joke. 

“The student told him he had heard the joke before and that he wanted to hear a new one, for which Kirby asked for another quarter,” Kusmiss said. 

The student replied, she said, that he was not going to give Kirby any more money for his “corny” jokes, after which Kirby started making fun of the boy’s physical appearance, especially his weight. 

The students walked away from the spot, but Kirby continued his comments which led to a verbal exchange, she reported. 

“They started yelling at each other and at one point the older man brought his hand up like he was going to hit the young man,” Kusmiss said. “The young man caught his hand and the two tussled. At this point Kirby brought out his pocket knife and held it in his fist. Kirby punched the 10th-grader in the left side of his chest. The three students started running to the school with the joke-teller chasing them.” 

After the boys reached the east entrance of Berkeley High on Kittredge and Milvia streets they yelled for help. The school’s safety officers and other staff surrounded Kirby and called for emergency support on the radio. 

BPD officers showed up and took Kirby into custody on charges of brandishing a knife, bringing a weapon into the school grounds and battery. 

Police took eyewitness testimony from the students and school staff, including the school’s Dean of Discipline Alejandro Ramos, and booked the suspect into the Berkeley City Jail. 

No one was injured in the incident, Kusmiss said, although Berkeley Fire Department paramedics attended to the student who was punched after he complained of an asthmatic fit. 

BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan alleged that Kirby had at one point attacked the student with a blunt end of the knife, but had not injured him. 

Kusmiss said Kirby is a prominent fixture in downtown Berkeley. 

“Berkeley police [are] familiar with the young man and he can be problematic,” she said. “He has been arrested for a diversity of offenses. Although the police department often gets reports about verbal exchanges with people asking for spare change, it’s not often that someone pulls out a knife. We are always concerned when something like this happens, especially when the safety of a student is concerned.” 

Thursday’s incident marked the second time in two days when police were called on campus to arrest somebody. Police arrested a Berkeley High sophomore Wednesday after he robbed a junior of his MP3 player. 

An Airsoft gun, believed to have been used by the sophomore, was later found in a backpack in the Old Gym.