A 44-year-old notary public from Berkeley was charged with eight felonies Friday following a months-long investigation into a sex crime series with at least five victims, two of whom were children on their way to school in Albany, authorities report.
Police say the earliest known incident in the series took place March 30 when a man who said he had a knife sexually assaulted a 9-year-old child in Albany. This was followed by a sexual assault on Colusa Avenue in Berkeley in mid-April when a man who said he had a knife forced a woman in her 20s to orally copulate him. Police in Oakland got a similar report about an incident April 29 in their city.
In the days and weeks that followed the Colusa sexual assault, many community members asked Berkeleyside and speculated online, including on NextDoor and Facebook, about whether the incidents in Berkeley and Albany might have been related. Until this week, authorities declined to comment on the subject, citing the ongoing investigation, which has remained very active.
Then, on Saturday at about 12:15 p.m., a man grabbed a 60-year-old woman’s breast on Cedar Street near Stannage Avenue, according to community and police reports. That would provide a major turning point in the investigation, but not before a man with a similar description sexually assaulted a 14-year-old who was on their way to school in Albany on Tuesday morning.
The multi-agency investigation ultimately led police to arrest Tommy Lee Giles Jr. at his South Berkeley home this week on suspicion of several sex crimes, according to arrest records online. The Alameda County district attorney’s office has now charged Giles with eight felonies and two misdemeanors related to the five-victim sex crime series.
Police said DNA, clothing and other evidence linked Giles to the sex crimes, and that he “made admissions about each case” during interviews this week with BPD detectives, according to court records.
Sex crime reports immediately raised community alarm
Back in April, after police announced the Colusa incident and asked the community for tips, Berkeleyside began hearing from readers who hoped for more information. They also raised questions about whether an earlier report from Albany might indicate a repeat offender.
In that first incident, according to a brief community notification in March from Albany PD, a parent told police there had been “a concerning assault on their child as they walked to school” March 30. APD said there would be “extra patrols for routes children may take when traveling to and from schools,” but released no other details.
A community member familiar with the incident provided a bit more information in a forum online: They said an elementary school student had been confronted by a stranger at 8 a.m. near Washington and Talbot avenues: “The stranger said he had a knife and would hurt [the child] if [they] screamed.”
On Friday, additional details about the case became available via new court records. A 9-year-old had been walking in the 700 block of Talbot between 8 and 8:30 a.m. March 30 when a stranger approached and said he knew a shortcut to school that would avoid construction. He then walked the child between two homes, said he had a knife, which he threatened to use, and sexually assaulted the child, according to court papers.
(Citing an abundance of caution, police declined to share the gender of either Albany child.)
Then, April 14, a woman was walking on Colusa between Visalia Avenue and Thousand Oaks Boulevard at 1 p.m. when a stranger approached her from behind. He told the woman he had a knife and then sexually assaulted her, police said previously.
On Friday, police said the 23-year-old woman had been walking near the 500 block of Colusa when a stranger forced her to walk about 150 feet into the secluded yard of a vacant home where he made the young woman orally copulate him, according to court records.
After the assault, the man fled the area on foot. Police did not find him but they collected evidence at the scene, BPD said.
Numerous parents who read about both incidents said local officials should have done more in April to alert the community about them so that families could take additional steps to stay safe. Word about the disturbing crimes spread quickly in online forums and informal networks in Berkeley and Albany.
“I’m outraged that BUSD has not alerted families to this,” one mother told Berkeleyside in April. “We live close to Thousand Oaks Elementary and our girls go to school there. When I saw a policeman the other day he said he wouldn’t feel comfortable letting his own kids walk just down the block without supervision.”
Others said they wished police were doing more to keep the community informed about progress in the investigation.
But, although BPD said little publicly after the Colusa assault, detectives continued to work the case.
The next incident happened in North Oakland on April 29 between 9:20 and 9:40 a.m., BPD said Friday. A woman, also 23, was walking on 51st Street (near Telegraph Avenue) when she passed by a male stranger. The man grabbed her and threatened her with a knife, police said. He then pulled her behind a large bush on the property of a home nearby and forced her to orally copulate him, BPD said.
BPD: Woman’s photo of suspect helped crack the case
Then, on Saturday, a 60-year-old woman told police a man had grabbed her breast on Cedar near Stannage at about 12:15 p.m. that day. She also posted a description of the incident on NextDoor and asked neighbors to share any security footage they might have with police.
Her description online included a photograph she had taken of the back of the man who had grabbed her.
BPD said the woman’s post online attracted significant interest around the city — including from a Berkeley resident who recognized Giles and, on Monday, told police who he was.
The woman also later identified Giles, during a photo lineup conducted by BPD, as the person who had grabbed her, police said.
On Tuesday, the Albany Police Department put out a notice about a 14-year-old child who had been walking to school around 8:30 a.m. that day when a stranger, who said he had a knife, grabbed the student and sexually assaulted them in the 400 block of Evelyn Avenue near Brighton Avenue. Again, APD said officers added “extra patrols for routes children may take when traveling to and from schools.”
The Albany Unified School District put out its own “Urgent Safety Notification” to parents Tuesday afternoon in English, Spanish and Chinese. AUSD said a student had been confronted as they walked to school that morning, but was safe and that police were investigating.
Later that day, Berkeley police arrested Giles on suspicion of the sexual battery on Cedar. According to BPD, he was interviewed and admitted his involvement in that incident.
Police also obtained further information and key evidence during Tuesday’s interview — including Giles’ DNA.
After the interview about the misdemeanor case, Giles was able to post bail and return home.
But then, on Thursday morning, Berkeley sex crimes detectives got a DNA match for Giles that linked him to both the Colusa case and the May 24 incident in Albany, BPD said.
Detectives arrested Giles on Thursday and searched his home, where they found “evidence including clothing recovered for each of these cases,” according to BPD.
Long list of charges filed
On Friday, according to court records reviewed by Berkeleyside, the DA’s office charged Giles with a long list of serious crimes.
Giles is facing two felony counts and one misdemeanor in connection with the March 30 report from Albany: attempted forcible oral copulation on a child under 14, forcible lewd act upon a child and indecent exposure (the misdemeanor).
He is facing two felony counts in connection with the sexual assault on Colusa: assault with the intent to commit a sex crime and forcible oral copulation.
Giles is also facing felony charges of forcible oral copulation and sexual battery by restraint in connection with the April 29 incident in Oakland.
He has also been charged with two felonies — kidnapping to commit a sex crime and lewd act upon a child — in connection with the report Tuesday in Albany.
The other misdemeanor charge, of sexual battery, is from the incident on Cedar last weekend.
All of the felony charges also include numerous special allegations, including that the defendant used a weapon or was armed, that the victim was particularly vulnerable and that the conduct was violent. If Giles is convicted, and those allegations are found true, he could face a stricter sentence.
Giles has no prior arrests or criminal cases in Alameda County, according to court records online. He is now being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday at East County Hall of Justice.
Thirty-nine sex crimes — 17 of which are listed as felonies — have been reported in Berkeley over the past six months, according to CrimeMapping.com, a repository for local police data.
Police encourage other potential victims to come forward
On Friday, Albany PD said it recognized how alarming the assaults had been to the community, which generally has very few serious crimes.
“Albany Police Department understands the anxiety these cases placed on our community and want to thank the public for their patience as we investigated these crimes,” the agency said in a statement that was provided shortly after publication. “We also want to thank the Berkeley Police Department for their collaboration and work to get this individual into custody.”
BPD thanked the Oakland and Albany police departments for their collaboration and also thanked the Serological Research Institute in Richmond for its forensic work, which linked the cases together this week.
In its statement Friday, BPD asked anyone with information that could be pertinent to the investigation to call the Sex Crimes Unit at 510-981-5735.
BPD also indicated there could be additional victims who have not yet come forward, and urged them to call BPD, or the police agency in the city where the incident happened, to make a report.