Police recovered an assault rifle during a recent gunfire investigation in South Berkeley. Credit: BPD
Brian Johnson. Credit: BPD

An Oakland man was arrested Wednesday night after police say he fired an assault rifle at an occupied vehicle last week in a brazen daytime shooting in South Berkeley.

One woman, who lives in the neighborhood at 62nd and King streets where the incident happened, was in her daughter’s bedroom when the gunfire broke out. She threw herself on top of the girl to protect her, a community member told Berkeleyside.

“We are extremely worried because the shooting came from what seemed to be a high-powered assault rifle that fired off multiple rounds,” neighbor Sam Kang told the city in an email shared with Berkeleyside. “The shooting happened within a few feet of several young children who live at the intersection and who were in their homes when the shooting happened.”

Police say 29-year-old Brian Johnson of Oakland — who lives about two blocks from the shooting — fired at an occupied vehicle Nov. 29 at 4:40 p.m. Security footage caught the incident on camera. Johnson, police say, left the block on foot.

Berkeley police detectives arrested Johnson on Wednesday night with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, BPD said in response to a Berkeleyside inquiry. Authorities arrested Johnson near his home at 61 and Occidental streets. He “was in possession of a loaded modified assault rifle and a car that had been stolen in Oakland,” BPD said.

At Johnson’s home, detectives found evidence related to the shooting, said BPD, as well as credit cards, suspected stolen mail and other items related to identity theft.

Johnson was arrested on suspicion of shooting at an occupied vehicle, shooting in a negligent manner, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of an assault rifle and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is also facing a criminal enhancement related to committing a new crime while on pre-trial release for a different case.

BPD also arrested Johnson in connection with an auto burglary warrant from the Ed Roberts Campus in September as well as possession of a stolen vehicle and identity theft. Johnson remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, according to court records online. Bail has been set at $415,000 and he is scheduled for arraignment Friday.

In response to last week’s gunfire, neighbors pleaded with the Berkeley police chief and city staff to meet with them to come up with more solutions to ongoing violence. That meeting is slated to happen Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve experienced our share of problems in our neighborhood, but this shooting has all of us very anxious as to what to do next,” Kang wrote in the email to the city. “The weapon used was of such high caliber that one of my neighbors saw bright flashes coming from the gun (in daylight), and my neighbors several hundred feet away in Oakland were alarmed at the volume of the sound, even from their homes.”

The neighborhood at 62nd and King streets has for years experienced ongoing violence and other types of crime, in large part, South Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett said, due to its location adjacent to the major intersection where Adeline Street, Stanford Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way meet on the border of Berkeley and Oakland.

In an effort to address some of the issues, the city converted the block to one-way traffic and added a roundabout to slow speeding drivers. But it hasn’t been enough.

“There are people engaged in conflict right near there who utilize it for escape routes all the time,” he said. “There’s illicit activity connected right there. And people are still driving too fast.”

About 20 of this year’s 48 confirmed gunfire calls have taken place in South Berkeley in the districts represented by Bartlett and Councilmember Terry Taplin.

“It’s just unreal what that one block has had to go through,” Bartlett said. “No one block in this town should endure as much as they’re enduring.”

Police have received about 20 gunfire reports in South Berkeley this year. Credit: Berkeleyside/Google Maps

Drug activity in the area is also a regular occurrence. On Monday night, a Berkeley police officer noticed a black Mercedes 350 stopped in the middle of 62nd Street just east of Martin Luther King Jr. Way with its headlights off and the engine running. It was just before 11:10 p.m.

Molomjamts Altonochir and Erin Bynum. Credit: BPD

“As there have been a number of neighborhood complaints of drug activity in the area, the officer drove to the vehicle to investigate,” BPD said in a prepared statement. “When the officer contacted the vehicle’s two occupants, the officer could smell the odor of alcohol and marijuana coming from within the vehicle.”

Inside the Mercedes, the officer saw two open cans of beer in the backseat, where the passenger was sitting, BPD said. A subsequent vehicle search netted “a handgun along with a quantity of Xanax, a digital scale” and more than 3 pounds of marijuana. Police arrested the driver, 22-year-old Molomjamts Altonochir of San Gabriel, and passenger Erin Bynum, 25, of Alameda on suspicion of gun possession and possession of marijuana for sale.

Police found a handgun and more than 3 pounds of marijuana during a vehicle search this week. Credit: BPD

For the most part, Councilmember Bartlett told Berkeleyside on Thursday, South Berkeley has been getting safer when compared to years past. But 62nd and King, which has seen an increasing concentration of young families and others who are tired of the violence, has continued to struggle.

Bartlett said he and his constituents are committed to violence prevention strategies such as Ceasefire. But more work needs to be done as far as other approaches as well. Bartlett said he doesn’t think arrests or security cameras alone can solve the problems, but he knows changes are needed.

Bartlett said he will attend Thursday night’s meeting and is planning to propose the concept of shutting down the block to vehicle traffic completely. He wants to hear what neighbors think of that idea.

“At this point, I’m kind of running out of ideas,” Bartlett said. “These neighbors deserve a better quality of life. They deserve more safety.”

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...