Police Transcripts, Police Review Raise New Questions about Berkeley Police Response to Victim's Call for Help
Could Berkeley's Feb. 18 Park Hills murder have been prevented?
Yes, no, possibly.
Peter Cukor was attacked at 9:01 p.m., according to BPD timelines, while protestors were just leaving Oakland for Berkeley. Yet police priority changes in ranking calls—tied to Occupy—were in place before they were necessary, according to timelines.
Recently released police transcripts (Planet, Tues). and questions posed by the Berkeley Police Review Commission on Wednesday raise questionss about Berkeley police response.
The accused killer, Daniel Dewitt , has been declared unable to stand trial.
We may never know how Dewitt, who reportedly was living in a downtown Oakland hotel after his latest release from a mental health treatment facility, wound up at Peter Cukor's home near Tilden Park .
Chief Michael K. Meehan told me recently that Dewitt told police he had walked to Cukor's home from downtown Oakland. He had no bus ticket when he was arrested, according to the chief.
"He didn't talk to us much," said Meehan.
Dewitt, according to incomplete police transcripts of Cukor’s conversation with the BPD dispatcher, was "looking for someone named Zoey," according to the victim, who added, "he's pretty spacey."
"He says that he lives here. He wants to come in which is very strange. I'd like an officer up here right away," the victim told the dispatcher, at 8:48 p.m.
"Okay we'll try to get somebody out as soon as we can," the dispatcher promised. But "soon as we can" was not good enough—twenty-four minutes later.
A BPD officer in a squad car downtown heard the call to dispatchers at 8:59, and reportedly offered to respond. But the dispatcher reportedly told the officer not to go.
Cukor's call to BPD for help, at 8:48 p.m. could not have been more ill-timed, as cops, ill-advisedly or not, scrambled to cope with possible violence from an Occupy Oakland protest just leaving Oakland at around 9 p.m.
According to a source knowledgeable about BPD procedures, "prowler calls may not have been a top priority on the computer" when Cukor called.
The source, with whom I spoke Thursday, said that the decision to divert the downtown officer was a command decision, not a dispatcher decision.
Sharon Adams, a temporary police review commissioner, wanted to know, at Wednesday's Berkeley Police Review Commission meeting, where BPD got the idea that Occupy Oakland/Cal was a threat. It was this threat that was reported to have led to the police department changing its priorities the night of the murder.
The Chief told Commissioner Adams that the basis for BPD's decision to "monitor" Occupy came from UCPD.
Recently a highly placed source at UCPD confirmed to me that UCPD took the threat from Occupy Oakland, teamed for the evening with Occupy Cal, very seriously.
"Our intell indicated they intended to invade our headquarters," according to the UCPD source.
Occupy Oakland has repeatedly clashed violently with Oakland police.
I was covering the protest from its arrival at Derby and Telegraph, Feb,18. at 10:20 p.m. I followed it to the university police headquarters, where Occupy huffed and puffed, but failed to blow the house down. No sign of a threat or intention to enter the headquarters. (see accompanying photos)
Chanting "fuck the police; fuck the police" incessantly seemed enough of a blow-off to obviate further action.
At a North side public safety meeting, Mar. 8, Chief Meehan spoke with pride of the way BPD had handled that evening. "I am most proud" of that, he said.
The pride may be deserved. No arrests, no assaults. It was a night of celebration for the two Occupy movements, who reminisced about past actions.
This was also the night Peter Cukor was killed.
Did Occupy kill Cukor? Chief Meehan went out of his way in a public meeting, Mar. 8
to put that canard to rest. Twice he said BPD does not blame Occupy for the murder.
A Berkeley police squad car with two officers staked out the protest march when it arrived in Berkeley from Oakland at 10:20 p.m., according to the chief.
They did a good job of concealment. I looked everywhere, but could find no police.
The Chief has said that at 9 p.m. he "held over" a 12 man squad to have in reserve if the Occupy protest erupted. Cukor was, at this time, about to be killed.
Cukor's call to police complained about "a gentleman, a young man hanging around my property. I think he's transient. I'm not sure"—at 8:47 p.m., according to the transcript.
At 8:59 an officer on Shattuck offered to go to the crime scene, but was, reportedly, diverted. The chief has said it takes ten minutes for a squad car to get to the hills.
At 9:01 Cukor's wife reported her husband was being attacked. Squad cars were dispatched, according to the chief, at 9:02, and arrived at 9:12.
It took them ten minutes to respond after Cukor's wife reported the attack.
Let's say the downtown cop had set out at 8:59, when he offered to respond to the call, after reportedly hearing it on his car radio. With ten minutes as the driving time, the downtown cop would arrive at 9:09, eight minutes after the deadly assault began. The cop would have missed the murder in progress.
But if he had set out at 8:47 (as he would have, had not priorities been changed that evening)—he would have arrived at 8:57; four minutes before Cukor's wife reported the attack.
More than enough time to possibly have saved a life.
At the North side public safety meeting organized by Councilmember Susan Wengraf, District 6 (Cukor's district), the chief addressed events the night of the murder. "We've asked ourselves what we are not doing that other departments are doing ….we're just men and women."
I live here with my wife and kids, the chief said, "and I want Berkeley to be a safe place."
I asked Wengraf yesterday if she was satisfied with the chief's reassurances.
"The timeline explained exactly what happened," she said.
Wengraf described Cukor as a scientist who had gone into high tech. "He was in very
good shape," she noted, and a "very confident person."
Wengraf says she's seen so many conflicting media accounts of the murder she often is unsure whether she's reading fiction or fact.
"It's complicated," she observed.
Planet reporter Ted Friedman writes from the South-side. Urban Strider contributed to this piece from Berkeley Police Review Commission.