Updated: Berkeley People's Park Protest
Ends in Stabbing:Big University Police Operation

By Ted Friedman
Friday January 28, 2011 - 08:46:00 AM

The People's Park tree-sit protest ended at 3:30 a.m. Friday morning after a stabbing in the occupied tree and a massive U.C. Police Department show of force.

The protest was three months old at the time of death.

Before the six hour stand off was over, there had been in addition to the stabbing, a cordoning off of the Northwest corner of the park, and a police build-up that at times involved ten officers, two support vehicles, a utility truck, a fire engine, an ambulance, and as many as six squad cars. 

Allegedly drunk, and troubled by the 90 day People's Park tree-sit which he claimed was bringing too many police to the park, a man described as in his early twenties climbed Midnight Matt's 40 foot cedar in the park where a scuffle occurred. 

The intruder "attacked my home," Matt said; "I had to defend myself" with the knife. 

Matt said he did not know the intruder nor had he had previous contact with him or his three friends. 

U.C. police say Midnight Matt, 53, the tree-sitter, stabbed his unwelcome guest in the hand. Police say the intruder's injury was "bad enough" to require a trip to Alta Bates emergency room. 

The intruder, proclaiming he'd had enough of the tree-sit protest, fell from the upper branches to lower ones and then to the ground after he was allegedly assaulted. "The Blood's on your hands," he yelled on the way down. According to Matt, the intruder thought some of his blood had landed on the tree-sitter's protest banner. 

Three of the intruder's supporters fled the scene. 

Matt says he only grazed the acrobatic intruder's hand. Zachary Running Wolf Brown 47, the People's Park tree-sit organizer, says that he later saw the intruder in the park with a towel wrapped around his hand and that the emergency room story was a hoax to justify busting Matt from his loft. 

In a blazing spotlit haze shining through the trees, the crime scene glowed with significance and U.C. police, after what was then a four hour stand-off with Matt, surrounded his cedar aiming what appeared to be a rifle at him. 

By 3:30 a.m., the number of officers had dwindled and it appeared that Matt was staying—at least—the night. Having a rifle aimed at him did not sway him from remaining. Attempts to argue him down failed. When this reporter asked him if he would co-operate with police entreaties to descend he replied, "I don't know." Student passersby said they admired his courage and were dismayed that anyone would attack him in his tree. 

But when a hoard of police and a utility truck with a crane and bucket swarmed the site hours later, Matt co-operated, first by getting into the bucket voluntarily and transferring himself from the bucket to a steep ladder according to Lt. Andrew Tucker, UCPD's spokesman for the park. Lt. Tucker praised Matt's cooperation. 

"We are aware of the role of protest at U.C. Berkeley," Lt. Tucker said, "but I'm not sure this was a useful or effective protest." 

"When we sort this all out, we'll determine the charges," Lt. Tucker said. "We had to get him down because he assaulted someone with a knife." Matt, known among followers of the protest as a no nonsense guy, freely admitted to Tucker, Tucker said, that Matt had used his knife for self-protection. 

Lt.Tucker says, Matt could be charged with attempted murder after the UCPD investigation is complete. Matt left the site peacefully, in custody, in a UCPD squad car. 

The flashing light was off. 

Running Wolf, reached for comment—he had been ordered out of the park by police in the first hour of the incident—said he had placed a call to Tony Serra the well known San Francisco civil liberties attorney who represented protesters at the Memorial Stadium protest, 2006-2008. 

Running Wolf noted that during the 4 p.m. Thursday free meal in the park, some park regulars, who had threatened him previously, began throwing stuff at him after threatening for days to end the tree-sit protest, one stating: "I'm going to go up and end this." 

Running Wolf added that these counter protesters smelled of alcohol. By 9 p.m., they were apparently ready to make good their threats. 

As of Friday morning, Matt was awaiting a cell assignment at the Alameda County Sheriff's Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. According to a booking officer at the jail, he is being held without bail for attempted murder as well as two outstanding warrants for failure to appear before the court in two vehicle violations.  

As to whether the protest would resume after its riggings, banners, and other gear were hauled off unceremoniously, Running Wolf said, "That depends on the community." Asked to explain which community he meant, he replied. "I'd rather not say." 

When asked whether UCPD will guard against a re-instituted protest, Lt. Tucker stated that "we can't guard every tree in the park 24 hours a day." 


Ted Friedman has covered the tree-sit protest for the Planet.