Police, Firefighters Respond to Incident Involving People's Park Tree-Sitter

Photo: Police blocked off the area surrounding the tree that Midnight Matt is occupying.
Christopher McDermut/Photo
Police blocked off the area surrounding the tree that Midnight Matt is occupying.

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Correction Appended

At least 15 Berkeley police officers and other emergency units responded to People's Park Thursday night following what appeared to be an altercation involving a knife between a tree-sitter and four other homeless men.

One fire engine, one ambulance and at least seven police vehicles from both UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department were at the scene at about 9:30 p.m. Officers from the Berkeley police department had left by about 9:45 p.m., though seven UCPD officers remained at the park and were still monitoring the scene and maintaining the police line a half hour later.

According to Midnight Matt, who has been holding a tree sit in the park, just after 9 p.m. four men approached the tree where he has been posted for the past 89 days. He said they were making threats, claiming they would burn the tree down and "end this tree sit."

Matt said that when one of the men - who he said smelled of liquor - began to climb up the tree, Matt took out his knife and climbed down a few feet to a wooden platform that he has been using as part of the tree sit.

"He got his hand cut," Matt said.

There appeared to be a bloodstain about 8 inches in diameter on the Haste Street sidewalk near the basketball court in the park. At about 9:30 p.m. firefighters from the Berkeley Fire Department poured a clear liquid out of unmarked containers on the stain. The basketball court sits approximately 300 feet from Matt's tree.

"I don't think (the cut) was that bad," Matt said, adding that he had not left his tree following the incident. "I didn't see blood at all."

UCPD officers on the scene declined to comment.

Matt said the four men scattered after the altercation and added that he thought they lived in the west end of the park. Matt's tree is located in the east end.

At approximately 9:45 p.m., a few UCPD officers marked off the area surrounding the tree while other officers searched the area with flashlights and a black light.

Fifteen minutes later, two officers were on the park's basketball court talking with another man who appeared to have his hand bandaged. The man shouted that his hand was "cut to the bone."

The same two officers shooed away Zachary Runningwolf, a local homeless advocate who frequents the park and led a campaign to recall Mayor Tom Bates in 2006, when he approached the scene moments later. One of the officers told Runningwolf he could not talk to their "victim, witness or whatever he is."

Matt said he had called Runningwolf immediately after the incident.

The ambulance had left the scene without sirens by 10 p.m.

Although according to Matt no officers were at the park at the time of the altercation, he said police presence in the park has recently increased and that officers arrived at the scene within 10 minutes of the incident.

Tags: PEOPLE'S PARK, UCPD, BERKELEY FIRE DEPARTMENT, BERKELEY POLICE DEPARTMENT, MIDNIGHT MATT, ZACHARY RUNNINGWOLF

Correction: Friday, January 28, 2011
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the tree-sitter's name was Midnight Max. In fact, his name is Midnight Matt.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Stephanie Baer and Sarah Springfield are the city news editors. Contact them at [email protected]



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