[Editor’s Note: This story was updated after publication with comments from Juan’s Place and additional information from the Berkeley Police Department.]
Three men were arrested during a narcotics operation at Juan’s Place in West Berkeley on Thursday morning.
Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman, said the department’s Special Investigations Bureau “recovered several handguns, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, as well as a quantity of methamphetamine.”
White said he couldn’t share much information about the investigation, which took place at 941 Carleton St., because it remains in-progress.
That address is the location of popular Berkeley Mexican restaurant Juan’s Place.
White said three Berkeley men were arrested: 51-year-old Jorge Mejia, on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, both felonies; 61-year-old Juan Mejia, on suspicion of possessing controlled substances and drug paraphernalia, which are misdemeanors, along with probation violation; and 57-year-old Oscar Medina, on an outstanding warrant.
According to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s office, Jorge Mejia is an assistant manager at Juan’s Place, where the raid took place. Juan Mejia is listed as a restaurant employee. Both were booked into Berkeley Jail on Thursday.
Tony Mejia, manager at Juan’s, said the guns had been locked up in a safe and were not accessible to his brother, Jorge. He said their father had purchased some of those guns 30 years ago from a Berkeley Police officer, and that they had just been sitting in the safe ever since.
“I’m not a gun person,” he said. “They’re still in the box where my dad purchased them. We’re not doing those kinds of things here.”
He said there were two other “tiny guns” that he himself had put in a bag up on a shelf behind some other items. Those, too, were not being used.
Mejia said his brother didn’t even know the combination to the safe — or that the guns were inside — but, because of his status as a felon, he was not allowed to be around guns. He indicated that the other two arrests were for minor offenses, such as not showing up to court.
He said he believed someone had made a report to police about suspicious activity at Juan’s, which prompted the scrutiny.
“We’re not a perfect family,” he said, noting that one of his brothers had struggled with drug addiction. “We’re human. I just hope that people understand that.”
He said the business had been operating for 44-45 years in Berkeley. After so many years, he said, the accusations over “nonsense things” were unfortunate.
“To me, it’s not right,” he said. Of the police, he added, “I know they gotta do their jobs.”
Jorge and Juan Mejia are scheduled for arraignment Tuesday, May 31. Medina received a citation at the jail and was not booked, so his employment and court information was not available.
A worker in the area told Berkeleyside what he observed Thursday, beginning at about 8:30 a.m.
“As I walked by Juan’s I noted at least 8 to 10 Berkeley Police Department operatives dramatically decked out in all-black attire with bullet-proof vests,” he said in an email to Berkeleyside. “And 2 of them had serious-looking battering rams, too! Just like on the crime TV shows. They were ostensibly conducting a raid focused on Juan’s Restaurant kitchen employees.”
He continued: “I asked one of the BPD manager-type people what was happening and he told me gruffly that he had a warrant but didn’t have time to explain.”
The man told Berkeleyside he was concerned about the focus of the raid, and wondered whether it might have been related to immigration status.
“These restaurant employees are Hispanic men between the ages of 30 and 50,” he wrote. “During my morning walks I usually see these kitchen employees in the small parking area by the kitchen taking deliveries. And at that time you can always smell the chicken being freshly roasted for the day’s menu.”
He said he hoped the focus of the operation had not been to look for undocumented workers.
“BPD needs to use its budget on violent crime and issues of serious property loss,” he wrote.
White confirmed after publication that the operation was not related to immigration in any way.
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