Berkeley Police Recover 4 Weapons in 4 Days; 3 were ghost guns

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Police found this short-barreled AR-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine – identified as a phantom pistol not found without a serial number – during a car stop on Monday linked to a recent investigation into a catalytic converter theft at Berkeley. Credit: BPD

The discovery of a loaded gun in a criminal’s bedroom at a downtown Berkeley homeless shelter led to the facility being locked down on Friday until police could retrieve the gun safely, authorities report.

Scroll down for more on Berkeley’s ghost gun ban

It was one of four guns recovered by police in just four days. Berkeley PD said three of those guns were ghost guns, which are untraceable guns that do not have a serial number.

One of the pistols, which was loaded, was found hidden in an oven after a man – also a criminal – used it to threaten staff at a local store, police said. Officers also found a phantom weapon, along with a high capacity magazine, while investigating a trespass report.

And police found another ghost gun, described as a short barrel AR-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine, during a car stop related to a catalytic converter theft in Berkeley last month.

Police responded to the Dwight Way Shelter in downtown Berkeley at 2140 Dwight Way (near Shattuck Avenue) on Friday after a pest control officer with a bedbug sniffer dog noticed a gun in a man’s room while the man was sleeping. The worker notified shelter staff.

Officers found a loaded phantom weapon on a nightstand at a Berkeley homeless shelter on Friday. Credit: BPD

Weapons are not allowed inside the shelter and staff notified police of the problem at 12:20 p.m.

Donnell Smith. Credit: BPD

BPD formed a team to contact the man: “Recognizing the increased potential for violence upon contact with an armed person, these officers were also equipped with ballistic shields and less lethal ammunition,” BPD said.

Staff closed the facility and police were able to take the man into custody without incident at around 12:50 p.m. Officers found the loaded phantom weapon on a bedside table, BPD said, and identified the man. man arrested as Donnell Smith, 59. from Berkeley.

BPD arrested Smith on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a handgun and possession of a firearm without identifying marks. Smith, who was sent to jail in 2016 on a gun case, is out of custody and has not been charged. (Authorities often take weeks or months to lay charges when people are out of custody.)

Several hours after the shelter closed at 3:50 p.m., police responded to the Black & White Liquor Store, in South Berkeley at 3027 Adeline St. (at Ashby Avenue), over a report from a man who had pulled out a gun out of pocket and threatened store staff during a conflict.

Officers “found a loaded handgun hidden in the oven” on Friday at the home of a convicted drug dealer. Credit: BPD

The man had left when the police arrived, but officers spotted him a few blocks on Tremont Street, BPD said, “Although the man did not have a handgun with him, the officers examined the store’s CCTV recording and saw that the man had the gun previously. “

Police arrested the man, who was on probation for a drug sale case in 2019, and then conducted a consent search at his Tremont Street home, BPD said. During the search, officers “found a loaded handgun hidden inside the oven.”

Jermaine Coleman. Credit: BPD

Police identified the arrested man as 42 years old Jermaine Coleman of Berkeley. He was arrested on suspicion of being a criminal in possession of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, brandishing a weapon and other offenses. Coleman – who was in custody with a pending drug sale case at the time of his arrest – was due to be arraigned Wednesday morning at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin.

Coleman was charged this week with several felonies, including assault with a firearm and several other gun violations, according to court records online. (He remains in custody but his next court appearance had not been released at the time of publication.)

The next phantom gun case came at 9:20 a.m. on Sunday, BPD said, when officers responded to a house in the 1300 block of Rose Street in North Berkeley after a man and woman allegedly broke into in a resident’s garage.

Police say they recovered the phantom pistol with a high-capacity magazine from the bushes after a brief foot chase on Sunday morning. Credit: BPD

“After confronting the couple, the man and woman left the garage and the resident called BPD,” police said. The resident recognized the man from a recent history in Berkeleyside and was able to alert BPD to the identity of the intruder, according to BPD.

Randall Alston. Credit: BPD

Just after 10 a.m., police spotted the couple – Randall Alston, 28 (unaddressed) and Leilani Smith, 23, of Berkeley – at a gas station on University Avenue and Bonar Street and attempted to arrest them , BPD said. Smith complied with the police but Alston fled south on Bonar, according to BPD.

“As officers pursued the man on foot, officers saw the man remove a gun from his belt and throw it into some bushes along the way. After officers caught up with the man, they searched the area where he had thrown the gun, ”BPD said, and found the phantom weapon. with a large capacity charger in the bushes.

Leilani Smith. Credit: BPD

Police arrested the couple on suspicion of trespassing, possession of an assault weapon and several other weapon violations, BPD said. Alston was charged on Tuesday with possession of an assault weapon, illegal activity with a firearm, manufacturing a firearm without a serial number, burglary and four other felonies and misdemeanors, according to online court records. Smith faces similar charges. Their appearance was scheduled for Wednesday morning and their next court date had not been released at the time of publication. They remained in custody, according to online prison records.

Berkeley PD’s last weapon retrieval over the holiday weekend occurred just after 11:50 p.m. on Sunday.

The theft, which was caught on security camera, police said, occurred on September 3 at around 3:50 a.m. in the block of Hillcrest Road off Claremont Avenue. The security video, which was posted by BPD on YouTube this week, appears below. In the video, the thieves are able to shut off the catalytic converter and escape with it in about 3 minutes.

On Monday evening, in the vehicle linked to the theft of the catalytic converter, BPD said, officers found a phantom gun described as a Short barrel AR style rifle with a large capacity magazine, as well as a BB pistol.

Marco Dinegro. Credit: BPD

Police arrested driver Marco Dinegro, 19, of Richmond on suspicion of robbery, conspiracy and several weapons violations, BPD said.

According to online prison records, these alleged violations include possession of an assault weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.

From Wednesday, Dinegro remained in detention at Santa Rita Prison in Dublin. He was scheduled to appear at the East County Hall of Justice on Thursday, according to court records online.

This week, Berkeley Police also posted a video on YouTube regarding catalytic converter theft more generally. It appears below. In 2019, there were nearly 200 such flights at Berkeley, according to BPD. This rose to almost 600 in 2020; there have already been around 440 reported this year.

Berkeley authorities vote to ban phantom weapons

The recent wave of ghost weapon arrests illustrates their proliferation in Berkeley and beyond in recent years. On Tuesday evening, in an effort to tackle the growing problem, Berkeley City Council approved a new law banning most ghost guns in the city.

The office of West Berkeley council member Terry Taplin drafted the new law, with support from several of his colleagues, and the item was approved on Tuesday as part of the consent schedule.

Gun violence advocacy group Brady on Wednesday welcomed the city’s new ban on Twitter, calling the growing movement to ban these weapons “a major step forward.”

Council member Terry Taplin told Berkeleyside on Wednesday he was proud the city is joining its regional neighbors in taking action against “the urgent and growing threat of ‘ghost weapons'”.

“Our communities have suffered too much,” Taplin added. “I am adamant and committed to removing illegal firearms from our streets. “

According to Taplin’s advice, which was prepared ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, “Ghost guns have been used in a wide variety of crimes in California, including homicides, robberies, school shootings, police shootings. mass murder of law enforcement agents and domestic violence. . “

As of September 24, 22 of the 77 firearms seized by BPD in 2021 were phantom weapons, “including a fully automatic firearm used in an April 22 shootout in Fairview and Harper streets.”


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