Tree-Sitter Pleads Not Guilty to All Charges

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From behind a glass wall in one of Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse's rooms, People's Park tree-sitter Matthew Dodt pleaded not guilty to all charges Wednesday after being arrested last Friday morning.

Dodt, who is currently being detained at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, is being charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. He entered a not guilty plea for all charges.

Nearly a half-dozen supporters, including local activist and homeless advocate Zachary RunningWolf, attended to give character testimony.

During the arraignment, Zadik Shapiro, Dodt's lawyer, echoed Dodt's earlier assertions that he was defending himself from Austin White, whom Shapiro said was advancing on the tree Dodt occupied.

Reading from a police report, Judge Rhonda Burgess expressed concern regarding the validity of Dodt's claims, stating that White suffered multiple gashes across his fingers after raising his hand to prevent Dodt's knife from cutting his neck.

Burgess also cited the fact that UCPD officers found a bloody knife and a laser pointer at the scene and that one officer reported that the laser pointer was possibly an indicator of incoming fire.

Addressing a motion by Shapiro, Burgess denied a request to lower Dodt's $100,000 bail after reviewing the police report. She cited Dodt's clean rap sheet as a plus but admitted that a pending misdemeanor and the violent nature of his alleged crimes forced her to maintain his bail.

RunningWolf said in an interview that he was glad the park has "mellowed down" since the incident, but he said he remains skeptical that the university is done monitoring the park.

"UC police took full advantage of the park's community to come after us tree-sitters," he said. "It proves that the university is still interested in the park for development."

He added that despite losing several pieces of equipment that were seized by police - including platforms, ropes, harnesses and food - he was happy to see both Dodt and the tree, which suffered two clipped branches, were in good health.

Dodt's 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."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the park, said the incident represents the kind of violent crime he has been working to prevent in the city.

"To be protesting against an aspiring politico's bad ideas doesn't help," he said. "(Dodt) should realize the election is over and his violence is totally unacceptable."

Dodt's pre-trial is set for Feb. 17, with a preliminary examination of evidence scheduled for Mar. 16.


True Shields is the lead courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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