Charges Reduced in Berkeley People’s Park Stabbing--
Victim Tells Planet His Version of the Story (Exclusive)

By Ted Friedman
Monday January 31, 2011 - 09:12:00 PM
"Midnight Matt" as he sat in the tree last week.
"Midnight Matt" as he sat in the tree last week.

Berkeley People's Park's Midnight Matt, who turns out to be Matthew Bodt, 53, was arraigned at 4:55 on Monday In Alameda County Superior Court, where the University of California Police charge of attempted murder was reduced to assault with a deadly weapon and aiming a laser at officers, which is a misdemeanor.

He is restricted from contact with the man he allegedly stabbed with a knife, and from being on university property.

Back in People's Park, as the young stabbing victim in the People's Park tree-sit came forward Sunday to speak to the Planet, the murky details of the incident got less murky—somewhat. 

This much is clear, although U.C. police spotlights shinning through trees in dark of night created an eerie fog, and a police crime scene cordon kept on-lookers at a distance: A lone tree-sitter stabbed, cut, or slashed the hand of a young park user who was either "invited" up for a talk or was provoked into climbing up. 

Six hours later, the alleged assailant was arrested, removed, and charged with attempted murder as was reported in the Planet's breaking story, Jan. 28. 

But now that the whole troubling case is headed to court to be re-framed by opposing attorneys, and street pundits, even the two participants may not be able to reconstruct 

the attack. 

The victim, Austin D. White, 23, known to friends as Drayco, maintains he was "invited" up to the tree-sitter's makeshift platform atop a 40 foot cedar. 

"I can't hear you from the ground," White said he recalls hearing the tree-sitter say by way of invitation. Matt Bodt, 54 (Midnight Matt) was the inviter, according to White. White was not armed. But he did have the support of three others who were also there to challenge Bodt. 

A nearby park regular, whose view of the action high in the tree was blocked by a park storage bin, says he heard heated words between the alleged attacker and the climber at 9:15 p.m Thursday. He heard the alleged victim say, "You wouldn't say that if you were down here." According to this audio witness, "hostilities were flying from both men." 

in this context, White's comment that he had an "invitation" may refer to an invitation less than formal. 

Numerous park users report that a group of park West-enders had been taunting the tree sitter all day, moving back and forth from the west end of the park to the tree-sit in the Southeast end. 

Tensions among park regulars stemmed from increased police patrols in the park seemingly prompted by the three month on-going tree protest. Berkeley's well-known "Hate Man," popularly believed to be a former New York Times reporter, observed that 17 police citations had resulted because of the tree-sit. 

Those tensions grew in the week before the alleged stabbing when the tree-sitter allegedly aimed a laser beam at a police officer. Although the laser pointing stopped quickly, the incident was viewed by some as the last straw. The idea that police would have this as an excuse to roust the park, was unbearable . Tempers flared, according to numerous sources. 

Halfway up, White relates, he was met by Bodt, who had descended to a lower branch, kicked White in the throat, and then grabbed him from behind. 

White says it was clear that Bodt was aiming with a knife for his throat, which White tried to protect with his hand, saying, "you're going cut me over a tree? Really?" 


Bodt had previously told this reporter--during six hours of sporadic questions shouted from a sidewalk beyond university police crime scene tape--that he was defending himself from "invasion of my home." 

"The guy was only scratched," Bodt noted. 

Asked by this reporter how serious were the wounds, an officer replied, "serious enough to land White in the emergency room." 

But according to White he declined to seek treatment out of concerns for his companion dog. "We both have separation anxiety," White explained. 

A witness says a U.C. police officer, possibly Gabriella Jacobs, administered first aid in the park. 

But the next day, according to White, he was spotted by a UCPD detective who drove him to Highland Hospital Emergency room where he was treated and released. 

Displaying thick bandages on four fingertips of his left hand, White said he had been cut to the bone on one finger. 

But whatever lies beneath those soiled bandages only his doctors know. 

Bodt had been in the tree three months, with a few breaks in which substitutes like Frank Parrish, 51, and Clear Creek, 52, manned the branches. 

In three months of interviews with this reporter, Matt seemed like the perfect stereotype of a mellow tree-sitter, rational, gentle, friendly--and truthful to the point of literalness. 

He is restricted from contact with White and from being on university property.  

Nevertheless, his bail was set at $100,000. His attorney, C. Zadick Shapiro, of the National Lawyer's Guild, was granted a continuation until 9 a.m. Wednesday after he pointed out that Dodt had no prior violence or felony convictions, and pointed to a half dozen supporters in the courtroom ready to testify to his character. 

And some of them will do just that on Wednesday, either with letters testifying to his character or with live testimony. 


Ted Friedman has been covering People's Park. This is his fifth piece on the park.