Zachary RunningWolf put tape over his mouth in 2016 to protest the fact that he was not invited to speak at a mayoral forum.
Zachary RunningWolf put tape over his mouth at a mayoral candidate forum in 2016 to protest because he was not invited to participate. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The city of Berkeley secured a restraining order this week against Zachary RunningWolf Brown, a long-time Bay Area activist, alleging he made “credible death threats” against Mayor Jesse Arreguín and frightened a member of his staff.

The city filed paperwork seeking the restraining order Tuesday, according to Alameda County Superior Court records online. The court granted the request but it won’t be valid until the paperwork has been served on RunningWolf, who is listed in court paperwork as homeless.

Arreguín told police, according to the documents the city filed, that he was not interested in criminal prosecution but wanted the threats documented for the purpose of the restraining order. He told police that, although RunningWolf had previously criticized him publicly and vandalized his property, he was taking the new threats seriously because RunningWolf “has actually stated he would cause … harm.”

Court papers describe “escalating experiences” between Arreguín and RunningWolf since 2017. The mayor wrote that they “indicate to me that he is an erratic, volatile, and increasingly enraged person. His recent Twitter messages also show that his hostility toward me has taken a sharp turn to violent threats to ‘beat’ me with a baseball bat, ‘break every bone’ in my body, and kill me,” the mayor wrote in an April 1 declaration.

The threats documented by the city were posted on RunningWolf’s Twitter feed in late March, according to court papers. One tweet said the mayor would soon be “beaten to death.” According to police, a “social media manager” for the city, whose name was redacted from the version of the police report filed with the court, found the tweet and alerted the mayor.

Arreguín wrote, in the paperwork filed by the city, that he has known RunningWolf for about 12 years, since Arreguín served on the city’s Rent Stabilization Board. The mayor described RunningWolf as “a vocal and long-time member of the Berkeley community, who regularly attends and protests the meetings of the City Council and other city commissions.” The mayor wrote that RunningWolf has at times been “menacing, volatile, and aggressive. He regularly interrupts public meetings, shouting profanities at me and other public officials.”

Both men ran for Berkeley mayor in 2016. After Arreguín won the race, RunningWolf “harassed me and my staff with claims that he won the election … and that my elected position is illegitimate, and calling for my resignation,” according to court paperwork.

“While I believe this behavior to have been hostile and disruptive, I also strongly believe that protest and public comment serve an important role in the democratic process,” Arreguín wrote. He did not seek a restraining order previously “out of respect of [sic] Mr. RunningWolf’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government.”

That changed in recent weeks, Arreguín wrote, due to RunningWolf’s “repeated threats of violence” and death threats. The mayor referred to numerous messages on Twitter, all of which, he wrote, included “location stamps indicating they were posted from Berkeley, where I live and where I believe he may be living.”

In one of the tweets, according to court papers, RunningWolf said he would use a bat “2 Break EVERY Bone” in the mayor’s body. In another tweet, RunningWolf said the mayor was “soon 2 b Dead.” The activist posted additional threats of violence against the mayor on Twitter on March 25 and March 28, according to the documents. The court filing included what were described as “true and correct” copies of the tweets.

“I do not believe these are empty threats, given the increasing belligerence and violence that Mr. RunningWolf has demonstrated toward me and my staff,” the mayor wrote in court papers.

In the court filing, the mayor also described a June 21, 2018, meeting of the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission that both men attended. RunningWolf had filed a complaint against the mayor, which the commission dismissed that day: “Angered by the commission’s action, Mr. RunningWolf shouted profanities and, upon leaving the meeting room, shouted at me that he would ‘see [me] in the streets’ and that he ‘hope[d] [I was] well-guarded, you fucking punk,” the mayor wrote. A video of that meeting was turned over as part of the restraining order request, according to the court papers.

The mayor wrote that one of his staff members was so alarmed after RunningWolf chalked and spraypainted her driveway with “negative messages” that she installed surveillance cameras. In December, the mayor wrote, surveillance footage showed RunningWolf entering the woman’s property in Berkeley and “calling for me to resign,” according to the mayor.

Arreguín did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

In response to an inquiry to RunningWolf about the threats, he wrote in a direct message on Twitter that “Jesse is NOT the Mayor.” He continued: “I find it One-sided Journalism that every Article does NOT include what this is About CONTESTED Mayor’s Race 2016 … nor ONGOING NUCLEAR disaster @ FUKUSHIMA.”

RunningWolf became widely known in the Bay Area when he sat in the oak grove at UC Berkeley for nearly two years, from 2006 until 2008, to try to stop the construction of a campus athletic center at Memorial Stadium.

According to the Alameda County Superior Court website, the next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 30 in Department 511.

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...