Homicide victim’s family settles wrongful death suit against city of Berkeley

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The family of Peter Cukor, a Berkeley resident who was beaten to death by a trespasser last year, reached a resolution with the city of Berkeley regarding the wrongful death claim the family filed against the city last year.

Without admitting any fault in connection with the lawsuit, the city agreed to implement a number of changes to its Public Safety Communications Center’s practices in an effort to improve public safety, said R. Lewis Van Blois, the Cukor family’s attorney. According to Van Blois, the city of Berkeley will not pay any money to the Cukor family.

Among the new improvements to communication, emergency dispatchers may now inform callers that an officer will respond when a unit is available and may also add that there could be a delay due to high-priority calls in progress or due to a high volume of calls.

Additionally, police dispatchers responding to callers requesting an estimated time of arrival may now say they are unable to estimate a time, advise the caller to immediately call the 911 line if the caller feels threatened and ask the caller if there is anything the caller wants to add at the end of the call.

The Cukor family’s lawsuit against the city of Berkeley was filed Nov. 15, 2012, in the Alameda County Superior Court.

On Feb. 18, 2012, 67-year-old Peter Cukor called a Berkeley Police Department emergency number about 8:45 p.m. to report an intruder in the garage of his Berkeley Hills home. At the time, BPD, which declined to comment on the resolution of the case and changes to its emergency response system, was responding only to in-progress emergency calls as the department prepared for an Occupy Oakland protest.

According to Van Bois, Cukor believed the police were promptly responding to his call and waited outside his house to direct the police to his driveway. He was soon fatally attacked by the alleged intruder, Daniel DeWitt, who was charged with murder but later ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.

“It’s extremely difficult to file against dispatchers and the police department,” Van Bois said. “They have immunities that are virtually impossible to overcome, but now the Cukor family knows that they have done as much as they can to prevent a situation like this from happening again, which is what they really wanted.”

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents the district in which Cukor resided, said she was hopeful the case will allow the Cukor family and the city of Berkeley to move on from the event, which she described as “a perfect storm.”

“I don’t think throwing out a lawsuit is the best way to get closure and heal after a horrible tragedy, because then you’re constantly dealing with it,” Wengraf said. “This was a case of really bad luck and timing, but to point a finger and blame someone isn’t productive.”

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected].