Sack’s Coffee House (file photo). Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin
Sack’s Coffee House (file photo). Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin

Two Berkeley coffee shops were targeted in short order Tuesday night by a group of crooks who took customer laptops, authorities report.

At 7:30 p.m., three people in masks grabbed a laptop from a 21-year-old woman working at a table at Sack’s Coffee House, said Berkeley Police Officer Byron White, department spokesman. The group ran out of the coffee shop, at 2701 College Ave., at Derby Street, then fled. One of the thieves was described as male, unknown age or race, in a black hooded top “with the drawstrings pulled so tight” that the hood covered his face.

Less than 30 minutes later, three people went into Espresso Roma Café, about five blocks south at 2960 College. Police said they inadvertently hit a woman in the head while trying to take one laptop, then gave up and grabbed a laptop another customer had left on a table.

White said the group entered Espresso Roma at 7:53 p.m. One person stood by the door while two others tried to take a laptop from a 19-year-old woman sitting inside. She held onto the computer as the robbers struggled to get it. Police said a 39-year-old woman was struck in the head by the laptop during the struggle.

The men abandoned the first laptop, but a 71-year-old man had left his computer on a table nearby. The robbers took that laptop then the group left the café and ran west on Ashby Avenue, White said.

Police said the robbers were described as follows: a black man, 18-25 years old, 5’7″ to 6 feet tall, in a gray hooded sweatshirt with a black scarf covering his face; a black man, 18-22 years old, 5’6″ to 5’9″ tall, in a dark-colored hooded top and pants; and a black man, 18-22 years old, 5’6″ to 5’9″.

Police are looking into whether the two coffee shop incidents might be related.

White said the woman who was struck during the initial robbery attempt at Espresso Roma was not injured.

A customer who was in the shop during the robbery described the struggle over the laptop to Berkeleyside, “The thief yanked it away from her, and it banged another female customer at an adjacent table on the head, raising a bump but not causing any other apparent injury. She later declined offers to be taken for medical examination and showed no ill effects during the next hour or two before we all left. The laptop had fallen to the floor, where the thieves abandoned it.”

He said the group came in from the Ashby Avenue entrance and left the same way “while some customers yelled at them and attempted to follow.” The customers were unsuccessful and the group got away.

The man, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety, said police arrived within a few minutes to handle the incident and interview witnesses and victims.

Patrons at Espresso Roma also resisted during an armed robbery in 2017.

White estimated that there have been about seven laptop grabs from Berkeley cafés so far in 2019.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, at 4 p.m., police also handled a pedestrian robbery, he said.

A 22-year-old woman was walking in the 2500 block of Piedmont Avenue, near Dwight Way, listening to her headphones when she “felt a push from behind” as someone snatched her phone from her hands.

The robber ran to a vehicle parked nearby and drove away. Witnesses said he was black, 20-30 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall, and wore a red shirt. His vehicle was a beige SUV last seen southbound on Piedmont, White said.

Berkeley police investigators ask the community to share tips, surveillance footage and anything else that might be helpful. The BPD Robbery Detail is at 510-981-5742.

Avatar photo

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...