Tree-Sitter Remains in Custody on Suspicion of Attempted Murder

Photo: People's Park tree-sitter Matthew Dodt remains in custody at the Santa Rita Jail after being arrested early Friday morning.
Christopher McDermut/Staff
People's Park tree-sitter Matthew Dodt remains in custody at the Santa Rita Jail after being arrested early Friday morning.

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Following his arrest early Friday morning after allegedly cutting a man's hand while attempting to slash his throat, People's Park tree-sitter Matthew Dodt - also known as "Midnight Matt" - remains in custody on suspicion of attempted murder.

Dodt is being held on a $100,000 bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. His arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

UCPD officers arrested Dodt at 3:14 a.m. Friday after he allegedly cut a man's hand with his knife while still in his tree. He remained in his tree until after 3 a.m., when officers had already made plans to remove him from the tree and park.

UCPD Capt. Steve Roderick, who responded to the scene Thursday night, said Tuesday that officers decided to arrest Dodt on suspicion of the harsher offense of attempted murder because, according to the victim's statement, Dodt had tried to cut the victim's throat before the man responded by blocking Dodt's knife with his hand.

"It wasn't like (Dodt) randomly slashed him - he went for his throat," Roderick said. "The victim felt that the knife was specifically targeted at his throat."

In an interview with The Daily Californian Thursday night while Dodt was still perched in his tree, Dodt said four men had approached his tree just after 9 p.m., making threats and claiming they would burn the tree down and "end this tree sit."

"They thought I would cringe and cower," he said.

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

"He got his hand cut," Dodt said.

He added that the victim's cut did not appear to be "that bad," and that he "didn't see blood at all."

But Roderick confirmed Tuesday that a bloodstain - about 8 inches in diameter on the Haste Street sidewalk near the basketball court in the park - was created when the victim moved away from the tree to the basketball court after the incident. Firefighters from the Berkeley Fire Department bleached the stain that night.

According to Roderick, the victim refused to be transported to a hospital and was instead treated at the scene.

By about 10 p.m., the victim - with his hand bandaged - was talking with two officers on the basketball court. He shouted that his hand had been "cut to the bone."

Multiple emergency vehicles and about 15 officers from both UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department responded to the incident. Although no officers were at the park at the time of the altercation, according to Dodt, he said police presence in the park has recently increased and that officers arrived at the scene within 10 minutes of the incident.

"The police have ramped up their enforcement against homeless people," he said. "The university claims this is their property, but this is Native American land."

Zachary Runningwolf, a local homeless advocate who led a campaign to recall Mayor Tom Bates in 2006, was shooed away from the scene by multiple officers at about 10 p.m. He said that Dodt had called him immediately following the incident, and that Dodt had told him the man had climbed into the tree to assault him.

Dodt had been in the tree for 89 days at the time of the incident. His tree sit began Nov. 1 in protest of former Berkeley City Council District 7 candidate George Beier's plans to change the park and possibly build a soccer field or museum there. Though Beier lost the election, Dodt said in November he was also worried that UC Berkeley planned on "making a move on the park."

The university has owned and maintained People's Park exclusively since 1996.

Dodt said he had remained in his tree since the election to protest this ownership of the park, which he said is Native American land.

According to UCPD Capt. Margo Bennett, Dodt climbed down from the tree himself, though officers had made plans and brought in equipment to remove him.

Stephanie Baer of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Sarah Springfield is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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