Cafe Réveille in Berkeley. Image: Google Street View

Update, April 1, 2022: The case against the 18-year-old man who was arrested in 2019 was dismissed after he successfully completed a pretrial diversion program in 2021, according to court records online. The dismissal followed a no-contest plea deal in November 2019 in which he had been convicted of misdemeanor grand theft. Berkeleyside has removed the man’s name from this story because the misdemeanor charge was dismissed.

Original story: A San Pablo man police have linked to a group that’s repeatedly stolen laptops from people in Berkeley has been charged with grand theft in connection with a case dating back to January, authorities report.

The Alameda County district attorney’s office charged the 18-year-old last week after police in Berkeley recognized him and stopped him because they knew he had a warrant, said Berkeley Police Lt. Dan Montgomery. He joins three other people — 23-year-old Ronald Steven Swanson III of Richmond, 19-year-old Imara Jobali Hutton Jr. of El Sobrante and a 17-year-old from Richmond — charged previously in what BPD believes is a series of four laptop grabs from customers at Berkeley cafés and people on the street in late January.

“These things do take time to get enough pieces of the puzzle put together,” Montgomery said this week. “The detectives pursue these cases, and pursue the leads, until they are done. We don’t give up just because we didn’t catch them on patrol that night.”

After stopping Swanson, Hutton and the Richmond teen at the end of January, police said, robbery detectives linked the 18-year-old man to two laptop grabs from Berkeley cafés Jan. 23. That day at 1:40 p.m., a customer was working on the outdoor patio of Café Reveille, at 760 Hearst Ave. (at Fifth Street), when a stranger snatched his or her laptop. Three hours later, a thief took a laptop from a customer inside of Starbucks at 2128 Oxford St. (at Center Street). After both thefts, the culprit fled in a black Ford Mustang convertible driven by an accomplice, according to police.

Both incidents were captured on surveillance video, police wrote.

BPD identified the 18-year-old as the suspect in the Jan. 23 laptop thefts and obtained a warrant for his arrest, according to court papers. After officers arrested him at Adeline and Harmon streets April 27, police wrote, he ultimately admitted he had taken the laptops from both coffee shop customers.

The officers who made the April 27 arrest were on a “high-visibility” patrol for BPD, Montgomery noted. These extra patrol teams, which are not tied to handling calls for service, are part of a department project to tackle particular crime problems that come up.

The Mustang convertible was one common thread among all four cases, Montgomery said. In addition to the Jan. 23 incidents, police also investigated a backpack theft Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. from outside Zazzi Foods at 1398 University Ave. The plate on the getaway car in that case led back to a Ford Mustang. And, when BPD arrested Swanson, Hutton and the Richmond teenager in late January, they were in that vehicle, according to police.

The trio’s arrest Jan. 29 came shortly after a man waiting at a bus stop at Shattuck Avenue and Woolsey Street had his backpack taken just before 5:30 p.m. The man had put his backpack — which held his laptop — on the ground beside him. BPD said a stranger ran up and grabbed the bag, then ran to a black Ford Mustang convertible. 

Albany police spotted that vehicle at Marin and Santa Fe avenues and stopped it, police reported previously.

Investigators arrested all three vehicle occupants on suspicion of grand theft, possession of stolen property and conspiracy. Police said they found the man’s stolen laptop in the Mustang.

The DA’s office charged Hutton with three counts of grand theft — two from Jan. 23 and one from Jan. 29 — and charged Swanson with one count of grand theft, from Jan. 29, according to court records. The Richmond teen was charged with possession of stolen property, BPD said.

Hutton and Swanson are both scheduled for a pretrial hearing March 29. They are no longer in custody.

According to charging documents, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged the 18-year-old on May 1 with just one count of grand theft. That was in connection with the incident at Café Reveille, BPD said. He is no longer in custody and is set for an attorney and plea hearing Wednesday.

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...