The playground at Ohlone Park was empty Friday, June 16, despite the beautiful weather. Photo: Emilie Raguso

One week after authorities said a stranger shoved methamphetamine into a toddler’s mouth at People’s Park, a local mother who took her children to play at Ohlone Park in North Berkeley said an “unstable” man tried to give her son liquid from a bottle he claimed held water and honey.

Police arrested 36-year-old William Turner that evening, June 12, on suspicion of annoying a child, a felony, as well as receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor. He is being held on $40,000 bail and is scheduled for arraignment Monday, June 19. Turner’s arrest took several days to appear in online jail records because he was being evaluated at John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro.

The mother shared her story on social network Nextdoor and with Berkeleyside because she said other parents need to watch out for similar behavior. Berkeleyside agreed to grant her anonymity because of safety concerns.

“It’s scary and disturbing at the same time, that somebody would do that,” she said. “We don’t know him. My son wasn’t asking for water. He’s just a baby. That’s not something a balanced person would do.”

The woman said she was with her two children — a 3.5-year-old girl and 13-month-old boy — at Ohlone Park at about 5 p.m. last Monday. The baby was sitting a few feet away, playing in the sand, when a man came up “really fast” and put a clear, plastic water bottle right near the little boy’s face. He told the boy “drink,” or gave similar direction.

“I was like, ‘Don’t give him that drink… he has food allergies,’” she said. “I was starting to get really upset and he [the man] was starting to get agitated too.”

“It’s just water with honey in it,” the man told her.

He then walked away but “definitely seemed unstable, there by himself at a fenced-in tot park,” the woman said. He sat on the swing singing and talking to himself as the woman quickly collected her family’s things. “I just wanted to leave,” she said.

As the incident was unfolding, she said she had in mind what happened the prior week at People’s Park when a woman walked up to a little boy with his nanny and put methamphetamine into the child’s mouth.

There are a number of rules at Ohlone Park but nothing is posted at the playground about unaccompanied minors. Photo: Emilie Raguso

“I was definitely on a little bit more of a high alert,” she said. “So, I was able to act quickly.”

She considered calling police but wasn’t sure if she should, as she had been able to avert anything much from happening. She decided to post something about what had taken place on private social network Nextdoor. Her post generated dozens of comments, including those from people who told her to call the police.

“I did, and I’m glad I did,” she said. After speaking with BPD she learned other people had been calling about this man because he had been hanging around the park and offering other children drinks from his bottle.

“He definitely fixated on younger kids,” she said, adding that police told her they would have the liquid tested to find out what was actually in the bottle. “I don’t know what his intentions are, so that’s scary.”

By the time the woman called police, she said, Turner already had been detained. He’d been found with a stolen guitar, she said. And BPD was proceeding with at least that part of the case, she was told.

According to online records, BPD was called to Hearst and McGee avenues for a disturbance just before 5:15 p.m. Turner was arrested about 20 minutes later.

The mother said police took her concerns seriously, and had been “really responsive.”

She said the man appeared to be transient because of the way he looked and the bag he had with him. She noted that there seem to be an increasing number of troubling interactions happening in Berkeley involving people who seem mentally ill or homeless. A friend told her about an encounter she had while riding her bike near the YMCA, with her son in the baby seat.

“They had a bucket of feces thrown at them,” she said. “I don’t even know what to think about that, but it makes me really angry.… It’s such a big problem in our community, but there’s no easy fix.”

She said she’s had a range of emotions since the interaction in the park, and is still processing what happened. Part of the discussion on Nextdoor revolved around whether there are any laws related to unaccompanied adults in play areas.

She said she’d been told nothing is posted at the Ohlone Park playground, and hoped that’s something that might change. As of Friday, there were signs restricting dogs and smoking, and about operating hours, unattended property, feeding wildlife and overnight camping — but nothing about unaccompanied adults.

In 2015, after neighbors around the park said there was too much camping and other problematic behavior happening at Ohlone, the city stepped up its efforts related to signage, enforcement and trash pick-up.The efforts seemed to reduce reports of objectionable behavior in Ohlone Park.

The mother said the Nextdoor thread had been helpful, and hopes other parents and caregivers who learn about what happened will also be aware and report problems they see around Berkeley.

She said she thinks the man in the park likely needs mental help, and possibly medication — and hopes he gets treatment in a compassionate setting. But, in the meantime, she’s not planning to go back to Ohlone Park anytime soon.

“With my kid’s safety, I’m not going to gamble with that,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”

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...