Tree-Sitter's Hearing Set to Begin

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Correction Appended

People's Park tree-sitter Matthew Dodt - also known as "Midnight Matt" - will attend a preliminary hearing Wednesday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of stolen property, though homeless advocates believe there may be an underlying agenda to his prosecution.

On the night of Jan. 27, Dodt allegedly attempted to cut the neck of a man who was climbing his tree. The victim, Austin White, sustained an injury to his hand after blocking the alleged blow to his neck. In an interview with The Daily Californian that night, Dodt said he took his knife out in self-defense after the man allegedly threatened to burn his tree down.

"He got his hand cut," Dodt said at the scene.

The next morning, Dodt - who had been perched in the tree for 89 days in protest of potential changes to the park - was booked on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, trespassing and disorderly conduct at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, according to Sgt. J.D. Nelson, spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Dodt is currently being held on a $100,000 bail.

According to Dodt's attorney Zadik Shapiro, the initial charges of attempted murder, trespassing and disorderly conduct were dropped. An additional charge of possession of stolen property was added to Dodt's case at a pre-hearing conference Thursday when Dodt pleaded not guilty once again to all charges, Shapiro said, adding that he did not know when the new charge was put forward.

The allegedly stolen property was a police helmet belonging to a local Bay Area officer and was recovered among Dodt's belongings when he was arrested in January, according to UCPD Lt. Alex Yao.

The seemingly late mention of the stolen property has left some homeless advocates skeptical about the reasons as to why the additional charge was brought up and why Dodt has been in custody for over a month before beginning trial. Zachary RunningWolf, a local activist and homeless advocate who has been attending Dodt's pre-trial proceedings, said he believes the $100,000 bail is "ridiculous" for a man who he said has no prior police record.

"The university has added the stolen police riot helmet as a charge because they have no case on the other charges," RunningWolf said. "The university and court system is holding him just to punish him for standing up for People's Park."

He added that rumors that White and other key witnesses will not testify has sparked suspicion within the park community.

"The victims of the attempted murder will not even testify," he said. "They have no case so the university had to add the additional charge ... They are trying to put a leash on him or trying to keep him in jail."

Shapiro said that if Dodt is charged with possession of stolen property as a felony, he could serve up to two years in prison and one year in jail if he is charged with a misdemeanor. He added that there were some errors in the police report from the January incident and said he hopes that when the truth comes out he can prove Dodt is not guilty.

"At the end, the judge will decide if it is enough evidence to set the case for trial," he said. "I'm hoping they will get smart and dismiss the case at some point."


Correction: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dodt allegedly cut another man's neck. In fact, he is alleged to have attempted to cut the man's neck.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]

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