Image: Google maps
Image: Google maps

A Berkeley Police officer used pepper spray to subdue a naked man covered with blood who wielded a glass shard and charged a firefighter in late March, according to a document posted on the city website Friday.

Police must complete a brief form — which is made public — any time officers use pepper spray, as directed by a Berkeley City Council vote in 1997 (which also prohibited the use of pepper spray as a crowd control technique). The Berkeley Police Department is supposed to inform council and the city’s Police Review Commission about the use of pepper spray within seven days.

Under the department’s regulations governing use of force, “reasonable force” may be used to make an arrest, prevent an escape, overcome resistance or maintain order. Anytime pepper spray is used, officers must complete a form summarizing its use, and pass that form on to the division commander, who ultimately turns it over to the chief of police.

According to the April 15 report, a man pulled a fire alarm March 28 on Haste Street at 11:19 a.m. He also discharged a fire extinguisher, pulled a main water valve, emptied water from the sprinklers and broke out a 4-foot-by-3-foot window on the fourth floor of the building, according to the recent report. The man charged a firefighter responding to the scene, and the firefighter called for back-up.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said police and firefighters were dispatched to a fire alarm that was sounding in an apartment building in the 2100 block of Haste, between Shattuck Avenue and Fulton Street, in downtown Berkeley. Tenants reported smoke, and told responding officers they heard someone calling for help.

Coats said a firefighter on the fourth floor “requested immediate cover” to help deal with the man, who was “acting erratic.”

When police arrived, according to the April 15 report, they found the man, naked and bloody, holding a shard of broken glass authorities said he was using as a knife. Sgt. Bob Rittenhouse ordered the man to drop the knife, but he refused, wrote Officer Brian Kishiyama in the report.

“I did not want to approach [the man] and I believed there was a fire,” wrote Kishiyama, explaining why he used pepper spray. Police were then able to detain him.

Coats said the man — a 39-year-old from Castro Valley — was taken from the scene to a local hospital for evaluation.

“He was not arrested that day,” Coats said, adding, “the report indicated the property manger was going to consult with the management company to determine if they wish to seek charging.”

According to posts on the city website, police used pepper spray just once in 2014, when a shoplifter resisted arrest and “violently shoved” an officer trying to detain him. No pepper spray incidents were reported in 2013.

In 2012, officers used pepper spray seven times.

  • Jan. 3: A man threatened to kill a local resident, and was combative and resisting when police tried to detain him at Sacramento and Virginia streets.
  • Jan. 23: A man who choked a woman resisted police efforts to detain him at Virginia and Acton streets.
  • July 7: A man stopped during a narcotics investigation resisted police efforts to handcuff him at Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way.
  • July 14: A man involved in a dispute with storeowners at 2451 San Pablo Ave. ran from police who tried to stop him.
  • Aug. 22: A man reported to have looked like he was casing cars at 2709 Channing Way refused to comply with police orders and would not allow himself to be handcuffed.
  • Sept. 9: A man at Aquatic Park, believed to be on drugs, got into a struggle with an officer who tried to detain him. The officer tried to use pepper spray but, according to the report, the man was not exposed.
  • Sept. 22: A man attacked a clerk and customer at a doughnut shop at University and San Pablo avenues, then used a pair of metal scissors to threaten people, including officers, around him.

In 2011, officers used pepper spray at least four times: on a man who stole a backpack in April; an auto burglary suspect in July; a man who attacked an officer responding to a domestic violence call in October; and a home burglary suspect in December. (That was the year, in September, the city began posting these and other “off-agenda” memos online.)

Read the Berkeley Police Department’s regulations governing use of force.

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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...