Downtown Berkeley ambassador assault. Image: Bryan Hamilton
Image: Bryan Hamilton

Update, April 1: The Alameda County district attorney’s office has revisited the case, dropped the charges against both men, and had a judge declare them factually innocent. See the update.

Original story, March 27: Two homeless men shown on video in a heated interaction that turned violent, when a Downtown Berkeley Association staffer appeared to punch one of the men repeatedly in the head, entered no contest pleas on Monday to misdemeanor battery and will be sentenced to two years of probation, authorities said.

According to a video of the March 19 incident that was posted on YouTube by local resident Bryan Hamilton, two association workers had asked the pair to leave the alleyway behind the downtown Berkeley CVS, at Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way, when one of the men became upset and proceeded to shout invectives at a DBA worker identified in court documents as Jeffrey Bailey. In the video, Bailey then appears to punch the man — identified as 29-year-old Quinton Cocklereese — at least 10 times, pushing him to the ground.

Bailey initially reported the incident and told police he was only defending himself, and officers arrested Cocklereese and his associate Nathan Swor, 23, who can be seen in the video using a pole that authorities said had a blade attached to it to try to stop the apparent attack on Cocklereese. Both men were arrested Thursday night, March 19, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.

This week, however, police became aware of the video and, after watching it Wednesday, March 25, they alerted the Alameda County district attorney’s office to it, said Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats.

The video, which appears below, contains graphic language and violence that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. The footage has been viewed more than 10,000 times since Thursday morning, when Berkeleyside broke the news of the incident and video.

YouTube video

Representatives from the Downtown Berkeley Association saw the video Thursday morning and acted quickly, firing Bailey, suspending his co-worker — identified in court documents as Carmen Francios — and issuing a public apology.

But, as it turned out, Swor and Cocklereese both already had entered no contest pleas Monday for misdemeanor battery, and were sentenced to two years of probation. According to the district attorney’s office, they received credit for time served, will have to pay into a restitution fund, and will be subject to law enforcement searches and prohibited from possessing weapons. They also were ordered to stay away from the downtown Berkeley CVS.

According to the district attorney’s office, Cocklereese also admitted to a probation violation, and will work for 30 days in a sheriff’s department program as a result.

The men have since been released from custody, and are scheduled to return to court May 18 “for determination of restitution to the victim,” according to the district attorney’s office.

According to preliminary documents completed by police last week about Swor’s arrest, he “brandished and swung” a 6-foot-long pole that had a 4-inch blade attached to it, scraping Bailey’s arm. Police wrote that Cocklereese “used explicit language, raised his fist, and charged the victim in an attempt to cause a physical interaction,” then “threatened to kill the victim and their whole family.” Neither of the men have home addresses, according to court papers.

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.

Based on the initial police investigation, the Alameda County district attorney’s office filed seven misdemeanor charges against the pair, four related to Swor’s alleged use of the bladed pole, and three related to Cocklereese: disturbing the peace by offensive language, battery and criminal threats.

The district attorney’s declined to comment Thursday about whether charges against Bailey might be forthcoming. The district attorney’s office has not said whether the YouTube video might impact the case, but Berkeleyside has requested additional comment and will update this story if a response is provided.

(Update, 3:15 p.m. According to Rebecca Richardson at the DA’s office, “as for any matter in which new information comes to light, we will make a thorough review of the new evidence.”)

The Downtown Berkeley Association’s “ambassador” program, which is funded by the Downtown Business Improvement District, launched in April 2012. About a dozen ambassadors work downtown and are tasked with both keeping the space clean and also acting as a buffer or liaison between the homeless and the police.

Francois described the program to Berkeleyside in 2012: “I’m here to make you feel welcome and safe — that’s what my job is. I try to do everything I can to help the homeless. But they’ve got to want it. And if you’re aggressive and make people uncomfortable, that’s not OK. I’ll refer them to the police.”

Some homeless advocates have criticized the program as providing a private enforcement unit responsive to business concerns rather than to the broader community.

According to Lance Gorée, operations manager for the association and the manager of the ambassador program for contractor Block by Block, ambassadors are taught to “disengage whenever possible and to de-escalate whenever possible.” He said Thursday that the organization has detailed protocols for dealing with, and reporting, violent incidents.

There have been four other incidents this year that involved physical contact, Gorée said, but none of that contact was initiated by ambassadors.

Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner said his organization is cooperating with police. He said in a statement Thursday that the DBA “was shocked by this totally unacceptable egregious behavior, that runs completely contrary to the extensive training, protocols, and mission of hospitality and outreach.”

“It’s clearly totally unacceptable,” he told Berkeleyside. “We apologize to (the victim) and to the community. This is clearly so out of the realm of acceptable behavior and totally contrary to all of the training provided to ambassadors.”

Block by Block president Blair McBride echoed those sentiments: “The uncalled-for response by these Ambassadors has angered and appalled us deeply, and we apologize to this person, to the Berkeley community and to its leaders for the actions of these two individuals,” he said in a prepared statement. “What happened is intolerable.”

Video: Downtown Berkeley worker assaults homeless man (03.26.15)
Op-ed: In Berkeley, how much tolerance is too much? (03.23.15)
Berkeley council votes to curb impacts of homelessness (03.18.15)
Berkeley to grapple again with homeless on sidewalks (03.16.15)
Downtown ambassadors help, monitor homeless (07.02.12)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...