Berkeley police arrest a man linked to a gunfire case from early March, March 18, 2021. Photo: Citizen reporter

A Berkeley gang member who goes by the street name “Savage” has been charged with shooting at a moving vehicle on Sacramento Street in early March, authorities report.

Many readers had asked Berkeleyside about the arrest last week, by detectives and the Berkeley Police Department Special Response Team, of 29-year-old Jose Paz-Leja in South Berkeley. Officers from the Special Response Team (SRT), which other police agencies call “SWAT,” arrested Paz-Leja on Thursday at 7 a.m. at his home on Alcatraz Avenue near Sacramento Street, BPD said.

According to police, Paz-Leja had been “captured on multiple area video surveillance cameras running after a fleeing vehicle while shooting a handgun at it” on March 4 just after 9 p.m. The shooting took place on Sacramento Street just north of Alcatraz and officers found casings during their investigation at the scene, according to court papers. No injuries were reported.

Police described Paz-Leja as a convicted felon who is a “documented West Side Berkeley” gang member and said in court papers that he “has prior arrests in the same area for shootings and firearm possession.”

One reader described the arrest to Berkeleyside as it took place Thursday morning: “There are at least eight police cars and an ambulance and a fire truck. Some of the police are in full tactical gear. They brought out two suspects in handcuffs and just used a flash bang grenade. They were announcing on the loudspeaker for the rest of the people in the house to come out with your hands up and unarmed.”

Police said in a prepared statement that Paz-Leja “did not immediately comply with directions, and SRT utilized trained negotiators, who spoke to the subject for nearly 45 minutes while the individual was standing on the front lawn of the house.”

BPD said it uses its Special Response Team when handling “high risk warrants” such as the investigation last week: “Following the arrest, SRT members conducted a safety sweep of the house. After verifying the location was safe, the scene was turned over to detectives to conduct a search for evidence as authorized by the search warrant.”

Detectives found evidence during the search that tied Paz-Leja to the March 4 shooting, according to court papers. (Police did not specify in court documents what sort of evidence they found.) Paz-Leja’s family members also identified him in the surveillance footage from the shooting, BPD said.

Some readers told Berkeleyside, last week after the arrest, that they were concerned about the “show of force” and apparent “military action,” including the tan-colored camouflage uniforms worn by SRT members. BPD has previously explained that the uniform was selected after research identified it as the one that is the safest to use in urban environments during tactical situations.

BPD said previously that the uniform is widely used across the nation and that Berkeley was among the first to adopt it. In the past, the team wore a black uniform.

Berkeley police arrest a man linked to a gunfire case from early March, March 18, 2021. Photo: Citizen reporter

On Friday, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Paz-Leja with two felonies: shooting at an occupied vehicle and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to court papers.

Paz-Leja was convicted in 2017 for brandishing a firearm, according to court papers, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to probation. In that case, a woman told police he had waved a stolen gun at her at Sacramento and Harmon Street.

Later that year, police arrested Paz-Leja in connection with shooting and wounding a 25-year-old man on Fairview Street, near Sacramento Street, on Halloween night. BPD identified the victim in that case as a rival gang member who did not cooperate with the investigation. While looking into the case, however, police learned that the alleged shooter went by the name “Savage,” which they knew to be Paz-Leja’s nickname, according to court papers.

According to court records, the Halloween shooting case was dismissed in 2018 as part of a plea deal.

Paz-Leja also has a 2012 conviction in Alameda County for forgery, according to charging documents.

As of Monday, Paz-Leja remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and is being held without bail. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing, where a judge determines whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial, on April 20, according to jail records online.

If he is convicted in the new case, it would be Paz-Leja’s second strike, according to court papers.

There have been a half-dozen or so shootings in Berkeley in 2021, police have said previously.

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...