A 39-year-old student in a UC Berkeley program for formerly incarcerated individuals threatened to shoot at least two staff members last week after being placed on academic suspension, court records show.
The threats, which appeared in an April 21 email to UC Berkeley staff members, according to the University of California Police Department, prompted a campus-wide lockdown Thursday.
On Monday, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Lamar Bursey of Hayward with two felony counts of making criminal threats against two UC Berkeley staff members. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report the arrest.
According to court and UCPD records, Bursey had been placed on academic suspension after causing disturbances on campus on the morning of April 14 in the Valley Life Science Building and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.
Few details about those incidents have been released, but UCPD told Berkeleyside that Bursey had threatened a UC Berkeley staff member that day.
Last week, authorities say, the situation escalated when Bursey sent an email shortly before 6 a.m. stating that he would come into the office that day and planned to cause harm.
“Stop playing with me,” he wrote, according to court papers. “Depending on who I feel was helping or not, 2 people on this email will get shot.”
UCPD said one of the people who received the email “was scared for his life and the life of others.” He told his boss he would not return to campus until the situation was resolved.
Another staff member was also concerned, according to court records, and “thought she would be shot by BURSEY if she came into work. Out of fear for her safety” she did not go into the office.
UC Berkeley locked down campus Thursday morning, canceling all classes and advising community members not to go outside while authorities attempted to find Bursey.
He was located in Oakland at the Summit Campus of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center early Thursday afternoon and was “taken into custody without incident,” according to court papers. Authorities have not shared details about how they found Bursey or why he was in the hospital.
As of this week, Bursey remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled for a plea hearing Monday, according to court records. No bail amount is listed.
“The safety of the campus community was our top priority throughout this incident,” UCPD Lt. Sabrina Reich told Berkeleyside on Wednesday. “Thanks to the efforts of our officers and other coordinating campus units, we were able to safely resolve the situation without injury.”
Bursey had been a transfer student in UC Berkeley’s Underground Scholars program, according to a 2021 study on worker-led research to which he contributed. When the study was published last year, he was a second-year transfer student and was majoring in sociology.
He also “worked as the outreach coordinator and assistant board director of Reentry Services” and “has experience working in retail, sales, and warehouse operations,” according to his bio in the report.
UC Berkeley had removed Bursey’s biography from its website — along with the bios of other Underground Scholars “ambassadors” — as of this week.
But, according to a cached version of the bio that was available through a Google search, Bursey became a Laney College student in 2016, then joined UC Berkeley’s Underground Scholars program in the spring of 2017. He “began working as an Ambassador; identifying formerly incarcerated students on campus and providing them with resources to successfully transfer to UC Berkeley” and other UC campuses.
As described by UC Berkeley, the Underground Scholars program aims to build a “prison-to-university pipeline through recruitment, retention and advocacy.”
According to court records, prior to this week, Bursey had faced charges in 10 criminal cases in Alameda County between 2003 and 2015. Most of the cases were related to misdemeanor property crimes and drug offenses, including DUI. Several cases included misdemeanor battery charges as well.
UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Independent Advisory Board on Police Accountability and Community Safety is slated to hold a forum at 5 p.m. Wednesday about last week’s events.
“We know that it impacted everyone, was stressful and disruptive, and may have been activating for people who have experienced threats, violence, or similar circumstances in the past. We are proud of our peers and colleagues who reacted in a spirit of community and care by sheltering in place with each other, being on call and in emergency meetings for hours, and checking in on colleagues and friends,” according to the event description.
“We know that expertise on safety, justice, belonging, and wellbeing is located in all corners of campus and rooted in people’s lived experiences and professional, community, and academic experiences. This meeting intends to recognize and build on that expertise,” the description continued.
The board said it planned to use input from the forum to make recommendations related to “crisis prevention, response, and messaging moving forward.”
Berkeleyside added additional details to the story just after publication regarding Bursey’s background as well as the UC Berkeley forum. Featured photo credit: Jerome Paulos