Berkeley Ambassador shown assaulting homeless man in online video

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Update 3/27/15: This article has been updated to reflect information from Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats. 

A Berkeley Ambassador was fired after a video circulated showing the ambassador assaulting a homeless man in an alley.

Ambassadors work under the Berkeley Downtown Association and are charged with patrolling Downtown to foster a clean and hospitable environment. The ambassador has been fired, and another ambassador involved in the incident has been suspended, according to a Thursday statement from the association.

The video, which lasts about three and a half minutes and was posted to YouTube on Sunday, depicts two homeless people and two ambassadors in an alley. It shows the homeless man speaking aggressively to an ambassador, after which the ambassador appears to repeatedly punch him. Later, the ambassador is shown shoving a homeless person against a wall.

The incident occurred about 7 p.m. on Thursday. As per protocol, the involved ambassadors called the ambassador operations manager and submitted a report of the altercation, describing the event as an incidence of self-defense. The association said it did not realize the severity of the altercation until seeing the video Thursday morning and is cooperating with a police investigation.

Following the incident, Berkeley Police Department responded to a report from an ambassador of being assaulted with a knife mounted on the edge of a pole, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats.

The two homeless people shown in the video were then arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, threats, brandishing and probation violation, according to Coats. Upon seeing the video Wednesday, police prepared a supplemental report and forwarded the report and video to the district attorney’s office.

The ambassadors had gone to the alley, located behind CVS pharmacy near the corner of Durant and Shattuck avenues, to respond to a call about an “encampment,” according to Lance Goree, operations manager for the Downtown Berkeley Association. The individual shown assaulting the man had worked as an ambassador for just under a year, and the other ambassador had worked in the program for several years.

The association received four reports of physical altercations within the past year, but others were significantly more minor, according to Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner.

“This was a really unfortunate incident and I think atypical of our ambassadors,” Caner said. “They’re trained to back off and disengage from situations like this.”

Berkeley Ambassadors are employed by Block By Block, an organization that has partnered with the Downtown association since 2012.

“The uncalled-for response by these Ambassadors has angered and appalled us deeply, and we apologize to this person, to the Berkeley community and to its leaders for the actions of these two individuals,” wrote Block By Block President Blair McBride in a statement.

Caner said the association has started work on plans for expanded training around de-escalation and crisis management.

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated that the incident depicted in the video occurred on Friday, March 20. In fact, it occurred on Thursday, March 19.