Blame for homicide passed between police, protesters

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The Berkeley Police Department has come under fire this week for not responding to a call that evolved into the killing of a man Saturday.

Blame for the alleged murder of Peter Cukor, 67 — who was beaten to death outside of his Berkeley Hills home Saturday evening — has been passed between the police department and Occupy protesters who marched from Oakland to the UC Berkeley campus that evening.

Berkeley police have acknowledged that they were keeping officers on standby to monitor the march to the campus’s International House when Cukor first called at 8:45 p.m. to report a suspicious person “hanging around” his property.

However, at that time, the police department was only responding to criminal, emergency, in progress calls, according to Berkeley Police Department Lt. Andrew Greenwood.

After phoning police, Cukor walked to a nearby fire station for help and, on his way back, was bludgeoned to death, according to Greenwood. Police were on the scene in minutes, after Cukor’s wife, Andrea, called the department to report her husband was being assaulted.

Cukor was pronounced dead at the hospital, and a man identified as Daniel DeWitt is now being held on suspicion of the murder.

The alleged murder has shaken the community, including Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf — whose district encompasses the crime scene and knew Cukor personally — who has emphasized the “need to get at the root of this terrible tragedy.”

“Everyone is very shaken, and they are feeling vulnerable,” Wengraf said.  “I would like to get some assurance that the residents can depend on the police department 24/7, regardless of what else is going on in the world at the time.”

Although the police department has faced criticism for its delayed initial response, Greenwood said the first call from Cukor did not indicate the situation was an emergency. At the time, officers were only responding to emergency calls because they were preparing for the Occupy march that was planned for that evening, according to Greenwood.

“I’m totally freaked out by what happened,” said Cathy Romanski, a staff member at the UC Berkeley School of Law and a resident of the Grizzly Peak area where the murder occurred. “The police didn’t come when we needed them because of Occupy Oakland,” Romanski said. “I want them to know what they did — that a person died because of their protests. It’s appalling.”

However, Wendy Kenin, an Occupy Oakland protester, said the Occupy Oakland march did not leave until after the assault had already been reported, so blaming the department’s lack of response on the protesters is unfair.

“They are over-responding, and they are putting all their manpower into a peaceful demonstration when they should be responding to calls about potential violence,” Kenin said.

The second call from Cukor’s wife came in around 9 p.m., and the protesters left Oakland around 9:15 p.m., according to Noah Zimmerman, an Occupy Oakland protester.

Wengraf has called for police to provide information about how calls for help are handled, and to provide a timeline of what occurred after the call was made.

After the first call on Saturday evening, an officer who saw the queue of non-emergency calls offered to respond, but was told not to, according to Greenwood.

“It is a tragedy that the first call came on a non-emergency line, which is why it was not treated as an emergency and the dispatcher did not perceive the urgency of the situation,” Wengraf said.

In a statement released Tuesday, Berkeley Police Deptartment Chief Michael Meehan said the department is reviewing the circumstances of the case to “ensure everything possible was done to properly respond to this tragic event.”

“Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal are being treated as convenient scapegoats for BPD’s poor, regrettable decision that indirectly resulted in a death of an innocent person,” Zimmerman said.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article referred to the death of Peter Cukor as a murder. In fact, it is an alleged murder.