Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a request that charges be dropped against a 28-year-old Black woman who was arrested after being evicted from her home at its regular meeting Tuesday.
In June, Ayohenia Offutt-Chaney was evicted from her West Berkeley home after living there for several years with her great-uncle, who owned the property and died last year. Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who sponsored the item, said the city clerk is set to send a previously written letter to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley requesting on behalf of City Council the charges be dropped against Offutt-Chaney.
“There is no purpose served by pursuing charges against Ms. Offutt-Chaney, and we, the Berkeley City Council request that you drop the charges against Ms. Offutt-Chaney in the interest of justice,” the letter stated.
The property at 835 Page St. was owned by Ernest Thornton, and after his death last year, was occupied by his great-nephew and great-niece, Offutt-Chaney. According to the City Council letter, Offutt-Chaney had been caring for Thornton in the years before his death.
“(After his death) Mr. Thornton’s estate went into probate, and during the process, the administrator of the estate, who was not a member of the family, initiated an eviction procedure,” the City Council letter stated.
Offutt-Chaney has been an advocate of building more affordable housing and addressing the displacement of people of color through her organization, the E12th Coalition, according to Worthington. He said that it is unfortunate that Offutt-Chaney, of all people, is being displaced from a house that has been in her family since 1965, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
“It breaks my heart to see the younger generation of the family doing the kinds of things everybody in Berkeley believes in — helping other people, addressing injustice and helping mothers,” Worthington said. “It just breaks my heart to see that they could become criminalized and that they are losing their homes.”
When deputies from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the house on June 1, Offutt-Chaney was at the residence and explained to them that she believed the eviction was unjust, the City Council letter stated. She was then escorted by the deputies out of the house and was allowed to leave in her friend’s vehicle, according to the letter.
Before departure, however, the deputies allowed her to make a final statement about her circumstances outside the house. As she was giving her statement, a separate officer arrived on the scene and ordered her arrest, charging Offutt-Chaney with “resisting arrest” and the “failure to obey a court order,” according to the letter.
Offutt-Chaney is still pursuing legal methods to regain the house and keep the family in Berkeley, the City Council letter stated.
“We don’t think she should be prosecuted for her normal human reaction to such a great loss,” Worthington said. “This is not a political thing. To me this is more like a moral thing than a political thing.”