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Berkeley People's Park Tree-Poker Convicted for Convictions While Sticking Up For Indian Rights

By Ted Friedman
Friday February 10, 2012 - 06:38:00 PM

Even though I had vowed to cover the story to the bitter end, the end became too bitter for me.  

The case had begun in January when a tree-sitter poked a man in the hand with a camping knife in People's Park, and was charged, first, with attempted murder, then assault with a deadly weapon, and eventually possession of a police helmet. 

But, when Matt ("Midnight") Dodt was convicted, last week, of trespassing, during a three-month tree-sit in People's Park, and, aiming a laser at a university cop (twice), I was not covering the three-day trial. Dodt had refused my many attempts to interview him. 

Word was, Dodt and his friend, Judith Gipps, disliked my reporting of Dodt's People's Park tree-sit protest, which began in November. Gipps had been critical, when I called what she called a "poking"—a stabbing. 

In fact I had reported from the first, and exclusively, that the "stabbing" was probably a poking. The poking "victim," Drayco, refused medical treatment for 24 hours, before university police coaxed him into their squad car, and drove him to an emergency room. 

I also reported that university police were, reportedly, lazering Dodt days before the poking that ended in the protest.  

I was the first reporter on the scene when Dodt, allegedly, "stabbed" Drayco in a tree with a camping knife. Drayco was not, as reported in all media last week, coming up Matt's tree to "talk to him." 

Drayco was on his way up to kick Dodt's ass. Drayco had been drinking with Sasquatch all afternoon in People's Park's dysfunctional strip, the West End, where they concluded that Dodt and his half-assed sit-in had outlived their usefulness in the park. 

I saw Drayco in action recently at Occupy Berkeley, as he boasted to the general assembly that he was going to plank ("re-bar") someone to restore OB's purloined kitchen. I had been trying to interview Drayco for months, but that won't happen. 

Drayco is in Santa Rita Jail serving a sentence for planking someone at the OB tent-city, perhaps over OB's kitchen. 

No, Drayco was not on his way up Dodt’s tree for a meet-and-greet. A witness on the ground at the time of the stabbing, at 9 p.m. (I got there at 9:30) told me the conversation went like this: "[indistinct], then, Dodt: well if you feel that way, come on up, then."  

UCPD later used that against Dodt when they charged him, reporting that Dodt had invited Drayco up the tree. I've seen Drayco worked up, as he was that night. He's not the inviting type. 

Police first charged Dodt with attempted murder, claiming he tried to slit Drayco's throat. 

I wondered where Dodt, a peaceful local activist, who worked eight years for the SF Coalition to End Homlessness, had picked up his self defense skills. "Matt had lived in the Tenderloin," I was told. 

Why then was Dodt not mounting a self-defense case? 

According to a source close to the case, the three-day courtroom drama rested on behind the scenes maneuvering. The aiming a laser charge—had not Dodt's sentence been suspended—could have led to more jail time. 

Dodt had previously served two months at Santa Rita Alameda County Jail.  

It is little wonder that Dodt, and his friend dislike me. From the start of the ninety-day tree sit in the North east section of People's Park, I had poked fun. With me it was all about humanizing the story, sometimes at Matt's expense. 

Only after the alleged stabbing had I learned what a brave and dedicated activist Dodt was. But that was too late to do anyone any good. 

I wrote Dodt's attorney a character reference for a probation hearing, which Dodt lost. 

The first time I talked to Matt in November, he had just gone up the tree. One of his complaints was that a city council candidate had dissed People's Park. I returned the next day with the news that the council candidate had lost. What would Matt come up with next? 

Matt was waiting for Running Wolf to cook something up. RW, who organized the successful Oak Grove protest, noted that the Oak Grove action (at Memorial Stadium) had grown slowly, and that the People's Park action could build, much the same way. 

Eventually, the tree sit was protesting bad treatment of the homeless, and claiming Ohlone owned the park. 

There is no evidence for the Ohlone claim, and even Ohlone aren't interested. 

According to the scant (150 word) Chronicle coverage of Dodt's three-day-trial, Matt responded to an illegal lodging charge by contending that the university did not own the park, but that Ohlone Indians did. 

Wouldn't it be wiser to argue that Dodt's illegal tenancy was with tacit consent, since university cops were leaving him in the tree,—until the poking incident? 

As the university operations officer on the scene the night of the arrest told me, 

"we're aware of Berkeley's tradition of protest, and we try to respect that," but he added, "I don't think this protest was very effective." Perhaps Dodt disliked my reporting the officer's assessment. 

But enough, with the Perry-Mason second guessing. 

Now Dodt is on three-years probation, and has a stay-away from People's Park and the university—an order—he had wanted to avoid. 

He had his three days in court, and he cost the university a lot of time and money. For Matt, and Running Wolf, that's a victory, not a conviction. 

And Matt, don't go away mad, man. 


Ted Friedman lives a hop-skip-and-jump from the scene of the poking in the park. Two more tree-sits followed that of Matt Dodt.