Residents of a homeless encampment remain on the grounds of Old City Hall in what they say is a protest of new laws passed this week by the City Council. Photo: David Yee
Residents of a homeless encampment remain on the grounds of Old City Hall in what they say is a protest of new laws passed this week by the City Council. Photo: David Yee

Berkeley police responded to a stabbing at the recently established Old City Hall homeless encampment and arrested a man late Thursday morning.

According to a post on the “First they came for the homeless” Facebook page, which has been documenting happenings and efforts at the camp, “Shortly before noon, one of the protesters was stabbed in the leg.… The incident occurred with no warning, and no provocation. The occupation rose up and quickly surrounded the man with the knife.”

The post, published at 12:15 p.m., continued: “They announced a citizens arrest. The man grabbed a stick and started attacking. We grabbed sticks, and without hitting him, defended themselves. The police, whose station is 100 feet away, took 5 minutes to respond.”

According to the post, the stabbing victim is in the hospital and police arrested the alleged assailant. The Berkeley Police Department was not able to respond to a request for information prior to publication.

Berkeley has one less violent addict on the streets,” according to the Facebook post. “A very difficult and dangerous situation was handled with minimum violence, and according to the law.”

Tents sprung up in front of Old City Hall several weeks ago to protest new laws adopted this week by the Berkeley City Council. Proponents say the laws will help clean up city streets and regulate the behavior of those who use them, while opponents say they will criminalize the homeless rather than offering them the help they need.

Photo: First They Came for the Homeless
Police responded to a stabbing at the homeless occupation downtown. Photo: First They Came for the Homeless

Authorities identified the man who was arrested as 53-year-old transient Jerry Emanuel Ziegler. Ziegler was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, a felony. He remains in custody at Berkeley Jail with a bail of $35,000.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats provided additional information about the stabbing.

Coats said Ziegler had gotten into an argument with the victim, a 20-year-old transgender woman, about missing property. Ziegler thought his property was missing and confronted the 20-year-old about it. The argument got heated, and the 20-year-old attempted to escort Ziegler from the camp.

Coats said the two then began fighting, and Ziegler stabbed the woman multiple times with a small sharp object, resulting in minor injuries.

Several other campers then tried to detain Ziegler, said Coats, but he was able to break away and fled up Allston Way through Civic Center Park. Officers found him at Center and Milvia streets and took him into custody.

According to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s department, Ziegler also had been wanted on a $30,000 warrant linked to two misdemeanor charges. Coats said police also found him in possession of stolen property linked to a theft case from November.

Coats said officers and firefighters arrived to the fight scene very quickly — contrary to the five-minute response time described on the Facebook page — and were able to help direct other officers to Ziegler’s location. Police recovered the weapon, a small knife-like object, during the investigation.

Ziegler is scheduled for arraignment at 2 p.m. Monday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

The camp, which has been dubbed “Liberty City” by its residents, has received four eviction notices from the city, but has not otherwise been disturbed by officials. Activist Mike Zint, who has helped run the camp, says the area is part of the public commons and that campers have given themselves permission to be there.

Other than medicinal marijuana, the camp is drug- and alcohol-free, Zint told Berkeleyside recently, and those who stay in it must follow certain behavioral standards or risk eviction.

Zint told Berkeleyside in November that ideally the city would set aside a semi-permanent area for homeless individuals, at least through the winter, and allow them to govern themselves and try to get their lives on track. He said it’s a system that can work, as long as people follow the rules.

Zint and others have already evicted people unwilling to comply with those rules, he said. They kicked out a prostitute who was having sex for money right by the police station. They also evicted some meth heads and a gang of bicycle thieves.

“What I want to do is show the city that the homeless can be responsible for themselves and act appropriately,” said Zint, who had camped out at the Main Post Office on Allston Way for more than a year until November.

He told the Berkeley City Council earlier this week that Liberty City has provided shelter and storage to more than 60 people since its inception, as well as one hot meal a day at a cost of just $1 in food stamps per person. Dogs and cats have been vaccinated, and a “community recycling center” has been created.

He said the community-driven effort has been successful.

“What we want is to be left alone,” he told council.

Update, Dec. 5, 11:45 p.m. First They Came For the Homeless posted the following video on Facebook. The person who was stabbed speaks about what took place.

Here is the stabbing victim. In his own words. He now has to defend his honor because the violent thief who attacked him, accused him of stealing. So, the thief got all the press, and we got discredited, raided, arrested illegally, and had our rights violated in the home of Free Speech.

Posted by First they came for the homeless on Saturday, December 5, 2015

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley. This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. to include information from the Berkeley Police Department.

Homeless man arrested after daytime robbery, attempted rape of UC Berkeley student (12.03.15)
Berkeley council enacts street behavior regulations (12.02.15)
Council on affordable housing, PRC protest report, homeless services, protest march (12.01.15)
Berkeley orders new homeless tent city to disband (11.25.15)

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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...