BPD arrested four girls downtown Wednesday morning. Photo: Citizen reporter

Four girls who walked off with a UC Berkeley student’s cellphone when she let them borrow it Wednesday morning were arrested downtown near Berkeley City College, authorities report.

The incident began shortly before 10:30 a.m. in the 2100 block of Shattuck Avenue, said Sgt. Veronica Rodrigues of the Berkeley Police Department in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry. The group of girls, all of whom are minors, approached the young woman and asked if they could use her cellphone. The woman, described by BPD as a UC Berkeley student who does not speak much English, let them have it.

But instead of making a call, the girls walked away with the cellphone, said Rodrigues. Witnesses and the phone owner followed them. As they made their way down the street, good Samaritans urged the group to give the student back her phone. The girls ultimately threw down the phone, Rodrigues said.

Then, one of the girls punched a witness, according to Rodrigues, who described the violence as “unprovoked.” People continued to follow the group to the 2200 block of Center Street, near Berkeley City College, and flagged down BPD officers there.

The arrest, in a busy area downtown, drew significant public interest. A number of people recorded video of the detention on their cellphones, according to one onlooker. He shared video and several photographs of the arrest with Berkeleyside and asked for information about what had taken place.

As officers arrested the girls, they at times shouted profanities and resisted police efforts, according to video reviewed by Berkeleyside.

One of the girls was arrested on suspicion of grand theft of a cellphone, said Rodrigues. Another was arrested on suspicion of battery. All four were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy.

BPD did not release the names of the girls who were arrested because they are minors. Their ages and cities of residence were not available.

Rodrigues said one of the girls was taken to Alameda County Juvenile Hall in San Leandro and the others were released to parents or guardians.

She urged anyone who wants to help when someone asks to use their phone to consider suggesting an alternative.

“Offer to make the phone call on their behalf rather than relinquishing your phone,” she said Wednesday afternoon.

[Correction: This article originally misstated the location of Juvenile Hall. A reader let us know we got it wrong. The story has been fixed.]

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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...