Police found this short-barreled AR-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine — identified as an untraceable ghost gun without a serial number — during a car stop Monday linked to a recent catalytic converter theft investigation in Berkeley. Credit: BPD

The discovery of a loaded gun in the room of a felon at a downtown Berkeley homeless shelter led to the facility’s lockdown Friday until police could safely recover the weapon, authorities report.

Scroll down to learn more about Berkeley’s ghost gun ban

It was one of four firearms recovered by police in just four days. Berkeley PD said three of those firearms were ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms that don’t have serial numbers.

One of the guns, which was loaded, was found hidden inside an oven after a man — also a felon — used it to threaten staff at a local shop, police said. Officers also found a ghost gun, with a high-capacity magazine, while investigating a trespassing report.

And police found another ghost gun, described as a short-barreled AR-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine, during a car stop linked to a catalytic converter theft in Berkeley last month.

On Friday, police responded to the Dwight Way Shelter, in downtown Berkeley at 2140 Dwight Way (near Shattuck Avenue), after a pest control worker with a bed bug sniffing dog noticed a gun in a man’s room while the man was sleeping. The worker notified shelter staff.

Officers found a loaded ghost gun on a nightstand at a Berkeley homeless shelter Friday. Credit: BPD

Weapons are not allowed inside the shelter and staff notified police about the issue at 12:20 p.m.

Donnell Smith. Credit: BPD

BPD formed a team to contact the man: “Recognizing the increased potential for violence when contacting an armed person, these officers were also equipped with ballistic shields and less-lethal munitions,” BPD said.

Staff put the facility on lockdown and police were able to take the man into custody without incident at about 12:50 p.m. Officers found the loaded ghost gun on a nightstand, BPD said, and identified the arrested man as 59-year-old Donnell Smith of Berkeley.

BPD arrested Smith on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a handgun and being in possession of a firearm without identification marks. Smith, who was sent to prison in 2016 on a gun case, is out of custody and has not been charged. (Authorities often take weeks or months to bring charges when people are out of custody.)

Several hours after the shelter lockdown, at 3:50 p.m., police responded to Black & White Liquor Store, in South Berkeley at 3027 Adeline St. (at Ashby Avenue), on a report of a man who had pulled a gun from his pocket and threatened store staff during a dispute.

Officers “found a loaded handgun hidden inside the oven” at the home of a convicted drug dealer Friday. Credit: BPD

The man was gone when police arrived, but officers spotted him a few blocks away on Tremont Street, BPD said: “Although the man did not have a handgun with him, officers reviewed the store’s video surveillance recording and saw that the man had the firearm previously.”

Police detained the man, who was on probation from a 2019 drug sales case, then conducted a consent search at his home on Tremont Street, BPD said. During the search, officers “found a loaded handgun hidden inside the oven.”

Jermaine Coleman. Credit: BPD

Police identified the arrested man as 42-year-old Jermaine Coleman of Berkeley. He was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, brandishing a weapon and other violations. Coleman — who was out of custody with a felony drug sales case pending at the time of his arrest — was scheduled for arraignment Wednesday morning at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin.

Coleman was charged this week with multiple felonies, including assault with a firearm and several other gun violations, according to court records online. (He remains in custody but his next court appearance had not been posted as of publication time.)

The next ghost gun case came Sunday at 9:20 a.m., BPD said, when officers responded to a home in the 1300 block of Rose Street in North Berkeley after a man and woman reportedly broke into a resident’s garage.

Police say they recovered this ghost gun with a high-capacity magazine in the bushes after a brief foot chase Sunday morning. Credit: BPD

“After confronting the pair, the man and woman left the garage and the resident called BPD,” police said. The resident recognized the man from a recent Berkeleyside story and was able to alert BPD about the intruder’s identity, according to BPD.

Randall Alston. Credit: BPD

Just after 10 a.m., police spotted the pair — 28-year-old man Randall Alston (no address) and Leilani Smith, 23, of Berkeley — at a gas station at University Avenue and Bonar Street and attempted to detain them, BPD said. Smith complied with police but Alston fled south on Bonar, according to BPD.

“As officers chased after the man on foot, officers saw the man remove a firearm from his waistband and discard it in some bushes along the way. After officers caught up with the man, they searched the area where he had discarded the firearm,” BPD said, and found the ghost gun with a high-capacity magazine in the bushes.

Leilani Smith. Credit: BPD

Police arrested the pair on suspicion of trespassing, possessing an assault weapon and several other weapons violations, BPD said. On Tuesday, Alston was charged with possession of an assault weapon, unlawful firearm activity, the manufacture of a firearm without a serial number, burglary and four other felonies and misdemeanors, according to court records online. Smith is facing similar charges. Their arraignment was scheduled for Wednesday morning and their next court date had not been posted as of publication time. They remained in custody, according to online jail records.

Berkeley PD’s final gun recovery over the holiday weekend happened Sunday just after 11:50 p.m. Pinole PD called Berkeley police to say “they had detained the driver of a vehicle that was associated with a catalytic converter theft that occurred in Berkeley,” BPD said.

That theft, which was caught on security camera, police said, happened Sept. 3 at about 3:50 a.m. in the 100 block of Hillcrest Road, off Claremont Avenue. The security video, which was posted by BPD on YouTube this week, appears below. In the video, the thieves are able to cut off the catalytic converter and make off with it within about 3 minutes.

YouTube video

On Monday night, in the vehicle linked to the catalytic converter theft, BPD said, officers found a ghost gun described as a short-barreled AR-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine, as well as a BB gun.

Marco Dinegro. Credit: BPD

Police arrested the driver, 19-year-old Marco Dinegro of Richmond, on suspicion of grand theft, conspiracy and several weapons violations, BPD said.

According to jail records online, those alleged violations include possession of an assault weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.

As of Wednesday, Dinegro remained in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He was scheduled for arraignment Thursday at the East County Hall of Justice, according to court records online.

This week, Berkeley police also posted a video on YouTube regarding catalytic converter thefts more broadly. It appears below. In 2019, there were nearly 200 of these thefts in Berkeley, according to BPD. That rose to nearly 600 in 2020; there have been about 440 reported already this year.

YouTube video

Berkeley officials vote to ban ghost guns

The recent spate of ghost gun arrests illustrates their proliferation in Berkeley and beyond in recent years. On Tuesday night, in an effort to tackle the growing problem, the Berkeley City Council approved a new law to prohibit most ghost guns in the city.

West Berkeley Councilmember Terry Taplin’s office authored the new law, with support from several of his colleagues, and the item was approved as part of the consent calendar Tuesday.

Anti-gun violence advocacy group Brady lauded the city’s new ban on Wednesday on Twitter, calling the growing movement to ban these weapons “major progress.”

Councilmember Terry Taplin told Berkeleyside on Wednesday that he was proud of the city for joining regional neighbors in taking action against “the urgent and growing threat of ‘ghost guns.’”

“Our communities have suffered too much,” Taplin added. “I am adamant and resolved to get illegal firearms off of our streets.”

According to Taplin’s council item, which was prepared in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, “Ghost guns have been used in a wide variety of crimes in California, including homicides, robberies, school shootings, mass shootings, killings of law enforcement officers, and domestic violence.”

As of Sept. 24, 22 of the 77 guns seized by BPD in 2021 were ghost guns, “including a fully automatic firearm used at an April 22 shooting at Fairview and Harper streets.”

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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 of the Year...