Berkeley Police station. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley Police station. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley police officers used pepper spray to subdue a mentally ill man, described as belligerent and threatening, who refused to allow himself to be handcuffed, according to a document posted Friday on the city website.

In another recent case, Berkeley police used less-lethal rounds and baton strikes to detain a mentally ill man who advanced on them with a piece of wood, then later tried to escape police custody, authorities reported last week in response to a query from Berkeleyside.

The pepper spray incident took place Aug. 6 on Camelia Street west of San Pablo Avenue after an officer had stopped a man who was “acting violent and causing a disturbance” around 8:30 a.m. The welfare check involved someone possibly affected by mental health issues, and a second officer responded to the scene to assist.

The man’s name was redacted from the report posted on the city website.

According to the report, the officers tried to communicate with the man but he was belligerent and threatening, “saying he would become violent if we approached him.” The man “flexed his chest, shoulder, and arm muscles, and made fists with both his hands.” 

The officers asked the man to sit down, to maintain the safety of the scene, but he refused, according to the report.

The officers decided to take the man into custody for a mental health evaluation.

They decided to handcuff him, and told him to put his hands behind his back. He refused, according to the report.

One of the officers ordered the man a second time to put his hands behind his back, “this time warning that if he refused to comply, I would spray him” with pepper spray. The man said, “F-uck you, go ahead,” according to police.

Both officers then pepper sprayed the man in the face. One of the officers wrote in her report that she sprayed him with two 1/2-second bursts from about 7 feet away.

He appeared “temporarily stunned,” and the officers were able to get the man onto the ground and handcuff him without further incident.

The Berkeley Fire Department responded to the scene to render medical aid to the man, who was then taken by ambulance for a mental health evaluation.

The Berkeley Police Department is required by a 1997 City Council action to report all uses of pepper spray by officers “to the City Council and the Police Review Commission via the Police Department’s Chain of Command as a public record within seven (7) days of its use.”

The report posted on the city website, from Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan to Interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, is dated Sept. 21.

At least second use of force in recent months

More recently, Berkeley police officers fired “less lethal munitions” described by the department as flexible foam batons, on a man who advanced on officers with a large piece of wood after reportedly stealing sunglasses from a business in the 200 block of University Avenue on Sept. 6.

According to Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats, officers received a report at about 6:40 p.m. about the theft, and responded to the area. The first officer to arrive saw a man walking away from the business wearing a pair of sunglasses with the sales tag attached.

According to unconfirmed scanner recordings reviewed by Berkeleyside, the man appeared to have mental health issues.

“When the officer attempted to detain the man, the man cursed the officer and refused to stop for him,” Coats said. “Stopping briefing to pick up a large stick/piece of wood (about 4″ thick), the man continued to walk away from the officer” east toward the Sea Breeze Market.

The officer requested emergency back-up, “faced with having to stop/detain a non-compliant suspect armed with a stick,” and asked for other officers to respond, including one equipped with less lethal munitions.

As officers responded to the scene, the man fled on foot toward the pedestrian bridge, then “turned and charged the officers with his stick.” He swung the stick at the head of one of the officers, but missed, Coats said, hitting his arm and causing a visible injury.

The officer struck the man with a baton, causing him to back away, Coats said.

The officer with less lethal munitions arrived, and police told the man to drop the wood, ordering him to the ground.

Coats said the man refused to drop the stick, and maintained a “combative stance.”

Officers fired two foam baton rounds at the man — the second one followed the first, which had no apparent affect, Coats said — causing him to drop the stick. The man “continued to refuse commands” and held the combative stance, so an officer struck him once with a baton, at which point he “finally relented and gave up.”

Officers accompanied the man to the hospital for medical treatment prior to booking. According to Coats, the man at one point tried to escape, leaving one of the officers with a minor hand injury.

The man was identified by police as 49-year-old Andy Ray Harris of Oakland.

He was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, battery on a peace officer and probation violation.

According to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s department, Harris remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail and has already been sentenced.

Prior uses of pepper spray by BPD

The Camelia Street call was the second reported use of pepper spray by Berkeley officers this year. Police are not mandated to publicly report other types of force used during arrests.

In March, an officer used pepper spray to subdue a naked man covered with blood who wielded a glass shard and charged a firefighter.

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.

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.

Berkeley police report first pepper spray use of 2015 (04.20.15)
Mental health calls #1 drain on Berkeley police resources (04.16.15)
Cluster of police arrest resistant homeless man (video) (02.13.15)
Officials agree to study Tasers for Berkeley police (05.07.14)
Taser report: Could save millions, decrease use of force; oversight, training would be key (04.25.14)
Police call for Tasers after attempted killing of officer (04.10.14)
Berkeley slapped with a lawsuit over Kayla Moore’s death (02.14.14)
Vigil, rally mark anniversary of in-custody death (02.12.14)
City leaders weigh in on idea of Tasers in Berkeley (10.03.13)
After suicide attempt, police union says Tasers needed (09.25.13)
Berkeley police union makes the case for Tasers (05.29.13)
Xavier (Kayla) Moore’s death: The timeline (05.06.13)
Coroner, police deliver reports on Xavier Moore death (05.03.13)
Emotional pleas prompt call for Kayla Moore report (05.01.13)

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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...