By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Adults at Berkeley High School are obstructing prosecution of students arrested on suspicion of armed robberies on a campus where robbery, beatings and drug dealing are common, an Alameda County district attorney told a crowd at the school Monday night.
In two cases, witnesses were persuaded not to testify against suspects, one of them accused in a brutal beating and robbery on campus, Matt Golde said.
In the other case, a football coach persuaded a witness not to testify, he said.
"I'm just trying to give you the reality of the danger in school here because some people don't appreciate the reality of the situation," Golde said.
"We have so many armed robberies at this school it's unbelievable. We have a culture here where people are putting up with stuff that they shouldn't."
Golde, a supervisor in the county's juvenile division, made the comments during a parent forum designed to find solutions to the school's gun problem. More than 400 parents attended the meeting at the Berkeley Community Theater.
One of the students apprehended earlier this year already had a warrant for his arrest in connection with a "brutal beat-down" robbery on campus and "certain people at this school persuaded others not to testify against him," Golde said.
Berkeley High students also are committing home burglaries, selling drugs on campus and across the street at Civic Center Park, he said.
Pasquale Scuderi, principal at Berkeley High, said that Golde's assertions are not the rule.
"It is atypical that a staff member would say 'don't press charges,'" Scuderi told parents. "We have some pretty firm protocols for these types of incidents."
Since the beginning of the year, three gun incidents have been reported at the high school in which students were arrested on suspicion of gun possession, and one incident was reported at the smaller secondary Berkeley Technology Academy. Ashot was fired inside a bathroom at Berkeley High on March 21, but no one was injured.
Bill Huyett, superintendent of Berkeley schools, said all options are on the table for increasing security at the school and reducing the number of guns coming on campus.
That includes installing metal detectors at school entrances, although Huyett said those may be troublesome because it will be difficult to get 3,400 students through them in the morning and after lunch.
Other options include searches of students and their lockers, bringing reformed criminals onto campus to work as mentors to troubled teens, and beefing up security in and around the campus. The school already has added two security guards, bringing the number to 14.
On Wednesday, Berkeley police will meet with Huyett to offer recommendations on how to reduce student gun possession.
In a survey of 539 11th-graders at the school last year, 9 percent, or 48 students, said they brought a gun to school. Seven percent of 687 ninth-graders, also 48 students, said they brought a gun to school.
While Golde contended that students are bringing guns to school to commit armed robbery, school officials say the two most common reasons they hear are a belief that guns increase status and power and that they bring them for protection.
One student at the forum, 18-year-old Danielle Armstrong, said students are bringing guns to school because they fear gang members from other towns are waiting outside the school to shoot them.
She said in one of her classes, two female gang members who didn't even attend Berkeley High were sitting in her class when a substitute teacher filled in.
"First, we need to make students feel safe to come here," Armstrong said. "That way they don't have to bring weapons to school."
Huyett said he thought parent comments during the two-hour meeting were divided between imposing stricter security measures and closing the campus or educating and mentoring kids about the dangers of carrying guns.
"We have a problem, and we need to address it now," Huyett told parents. "Metal detectors and searching lockers are deterrents. We're trying to get a feel for the community on whether we should do things that preserve personal freedoms or go for more intrusive actions to physically control guns or both."
Parent Gina Morning said she wants action now.
"These three incidents are nothing new, it's just that things are now getting out in the open," she said.
"We really need to lock these kids down. We've been fortunate so far that someone has not brought a gun on campus and started shooting us."
Scott Blake, however, said that Berkeley probably would not tolerate intrusive searches.
"I'm concerned about being locked down and having metal detectors," he said.
"In the history of race relations in this town, I wonder how you would implement a search-and-seizure policy and who would be the ones who implement it. I would imagine you could be violating people's rights by the way they look and this district could enter into litigation if you search and seize the wrong person."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.