Berkeley neighbors said they were alarmed last week when a man police said was caught on video in April trespassing, possibly casing cars and a property in the Elmwood district, was arrested in a sexual assault case.
Whittier Buck Buchanan, a 60-year-old salesman and registered sex offender from Berkeley, remains in custody without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He is scheduled to enter a plea May 24. Authorities say Buchanan picked up a young woman in the Southside neighborhood in the middle of the night last week, then refused to let her out of his van until she performed oral sex on him. Police said the woman jumped out the side window of the van, as Buchanan drove, to escape sexual assault. Authorities have not said why the young woman got into Buchanan’s van, though she told police initially she had called for a driver, according to court papers.
Local residents who read about Buchanan’s arrest on Berkeleyside last week recalled a discussion on private social network Nextdoor about a man with a similar description who had been spotted in late April in the neighborhood apparently breaking the law by trespassing.
“Looks like it could be the guy discussed on Nextdoor who was caught wandering up driveways casing cars and properties. Is it?” asked one Berkeleyside reader.
Another reader responded, “Yes it was the man involved in an incident in the Elmwood.… Photos/video taken by the Nextdoor member and the photo in this story are a match.”
Police confirmed to a local resident it was the same man, he told Berkeleyside.
A video, posted by that resident on Nextdoor and YouTube, dated April 26, shows a man described as a non-resident walking up a residential driveway into a rear parking area off College Avenue. The driveway shown in the video is in the Elmwood neighborhood, about a half-mile from Buchanan’s home address on Dana Street.
“This fellow stopped his march into our back yard when challenged on Wednesday morning,” the caption reads. “The driveway is marked ‘no tresspassing’ (sic).”
The man can first be seen, in the 53-second video, walking up the driveway and out of frame. A white car stops by the driveway and the man walks back toward the street raising his arms emphatically. He appears to be speaking to the person in the car, though there is no sound. A second view, of the rear area itself, shows the man walking in a circle, then quickly heading out of frame back down the driveway.
In the video, the man appears to be wearing the same outfit that appears in the photograph to the left, which also was posted on Nextdoor: blue jeans, a black jacket and a shirt colored purple, blue and white.
After Buchanan’s arrest, the local resident who posted the video checked with police and provided an update to his neighbors, writing on Nextdoor: “A man I depicted in a former posting has been described by a Berkeley Police officer as ‘involved in a violent assault’. The officer said he wishes he had cause to arrest the man on the day I found him headed into the backyard of this property, because the latter incident may have been avoided. Here is his picture and a link to a video of his behavior on this property. If you see him, do not approach him or allow him to get close to you.”
The Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Buchanan last week with three felonies: kidnapping to commit a sex crime, along with a special allegation identifying him as a “habitual sex offender”; assault with the intent to commit a sex crime; and failure to register as a sex offender after an address change. The special allegation notes that Buchanan has convictions for two incidents of forced oral copulation involving a child under 14, also known as lewd acts with a child, and three forcible rapes from a 1996 case in Alameda County. Special allegations can increase sentencing recommendations.
It’s possible Buchanan has deep roots in the Berkeley neighborhood where he was living at the time of his arrest, on Dana Street between Ward and Derby streets a couple blocks from Willard Middle School. A child by the same name appears in the 1971 Willard Junior High School yearbook. As an eighth-grader there, the boy was on the basketball team. At the time, the school had only seventh and eighth grades, and was not yet a middle school.
“Success depends largely upon how seriously one pursues his responsibility and how determined he is to succeed,” Principal Levi Poe wrote in his introduction to the yearbook. It was Poe’s first year in that position, though he eventually would work for Berkeley Unified for 36. “Let each one of us be guided by that inner craving for individual success and achievement. One’s character, attitude, and social behavior are among those personal assets which are necessary if one is to assume his rightful role in a modern society. May we strive to accentuate individual liberty, opportunity, and achievement by utilizing our creative talents to their fullest extent.”
It’s unknown what came next for the young Whittier Buchanan. His name turns up again online in a 1989 case filed in Denver involving cocaine sales, but the case status was listed as “terminated” in the PACER Case Locator and court documents were not readily available.
In 1996, Buchanan was sent to prison for 19 years after being found guilty of multiple counts of lewd acts with a child and rape in Alameda County. He was 39 years old. According to court papers that reference the conviction, an attorney arguing against Buchanan in a later civil case told a judge he “deliberately deceived the victim … by ingratiating himself with her and her little daughter at a playground to get an invitation to her house, where he raped her.” According to a court transcript, Buchanan tried to pass himself off as a tutor for the child.
While he was in prison, Buchanan filed 24 civil lawsuits in U.S. District Court from 1997 through 2009, according to court records online. Many of them were prisoner civil rights cases filed against prison officials and guards. Documents for many of the early cases are not available online. But the more recent cases are revealing.
In 2008, while Buchanan was incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, he filed an excessive force lawsuit against a guard he said slammed him against the wall “and told him not to mess with the female guards” after another correctional officer said Buchanan “had gotten smart with her.” According to the lawsuit, the guards then told Buchanan and the other new transfers, as they waited to be processed, “not to mess with the women, and not to come to the officers for help if they end up owing others money for bets or drugs.” The guards, according to the filing, told “the newly transferred prisoners to “‘suck’,’fuck’, or ‘fight’” if they wanted to solve their own debt.”
The lawsuit followed an inmate grievance Buchanan filed against a different guard who was reported in court papers to have confiscated his straw hat. Buchanan alleged, in court documents, that the guard and others at Pleasant Valley who were causing problems for him were members of the Green Wall prison guard gang. A jury ruled against Buchanan in that case in December 2012.
In his most recent lawsuit, filed in 2009, Buchanan said he had been written up the prior year by an instructor at Pleasant Valley because a solitaire card game “popped up” unexpectedly on his computer while he was in a computer class. The same instructor wrote him up two more times for failing to tuck in his shirt, he wrote, and later kicked him out of class because she “harbored a retaliatory animus” toward Buchanan’s “prolific use of the prison grievance system.” The lawsuit, which was dismissed in 2013, included a long list of claims, from allegations of assault and racial slurs to the repeated confiscation of his personal property.